‹During the latter parts of the Nineteenth Century, the German existentialist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote a great deal on his ideas of morality, values, and life. His writings were controversial, but they greatly affected European thought. It can be argued that Nietzschean philosophy was a contributing factor in the rise of what is considered our world’s most awful empire, the Third Reich.
‹Such a stance is based on the fact that there are very similar currents in thought between the philosophy and the empire.
‹For example, history will, one would hope, never forget the atrocity that was the Holocaust. The notion that a civilized nation could choose to hate one group so much, to the point of barbaric genocide, seems unconscionable to most. However, the anti-Semitism that prompted the Holocaust had a fairly long history in Europe as a whole. Nietzsche, though he wrote of rethinking or rejecting the values and beliefs of the society, held to a fierce anti-Semitic viewpoint. Nietzsche, in “Beyond Good and Evil,” quotes Tacitus in saying that the Jews were born for slavery, and claims that Jews as a whole have inverted any and all proper values. Indeed, he seems to blame Judaism for what he would call the upside-down values of the world, saying:
‹life on earth has acquired a novel and dangerous
‹attraction for a couple of millenia: their prophets
‹have fused ‘rich,’ ‘godless,’ ‘evil,’ ‘violent,’ and
‹’sensual’ into one and were the first to use the
‹word ‘world’ as an opprobrium. This inversion of
‹values (which include using the word ‘poor’ as
‹synonymous with ‘holy’ and ‘friend’) constitutes the
‹significance of the Jewish people: they mark the
‹beginning of the slave rebellion in morals(1234).
‹The last comment implies that the Jews are responsible for the oppression of the “free spirits” of mankind, and with that sentence, Nietzsche certainly appears to hold a grudge. (There are cross-references to other potentially anti-Semitic passages, but they have been edited out of the Morgan text.)
‹Coupled with this anti-Semitism is a definite sense of racialized thought. Nietzsche writes that his age is an age of disintegration that “mixes races indiscriminately”(1237). He says that such “human beings of late cultures and refracted lights will on the average be weaker human beings”(1237). He claims that the war that would exist in a person of mixed race, both biologically and culturally, would lead them to the safety and security of blind faith in a religion, or the values of the society. He therefore appears to conclude that only men of clean racial identity can be truly great, because they would have no internal conflicts. This view is rather illogical, for he assumes that a mixed race person has internal, biomechanical conflict, because of the assumption that the races are so truly separate as to be unmixable in any functional fashion. From this clean-race-only viewpoint, one can see the origins of the Nazi notions of Aryan superiority. If each race has its characteristics, then surely one must be better than the others. And what luck for the Germans that they determined, no doubt through careful study (as well as some reading of Winkelmann), that the Germanic Aryan race was superior.
‹Though the Aryan race was supposedly so superior, a black-haired gentleman from Austria would be the fellow to set himself in charge of Nazi Germany. It is certain that Adolf Hitler had some of the Nietzschean “will to power,” considering he rose from starving artist to Chancellor of Germany. However, Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy did not necessarily state that the power one would will toward was political or economic, but was instead an internal power, a power of self-realization, a power to overcome one’s limitations. Still, Nietzsche states: “Genuine philosophers, however, are commanders and legislators: they say ‘thus it shall be!'”(1250). Hitler, it can be theorized, wanted to be a genuine philosopher, and wanted to prove himself an ubermensch. God being dead, according to Nietzsche, Hitler produced an extreme nationalist fervor in his people, revolving around him. He would soon use this power over his citizens to wage a war of conquest.
‹As with the anti-Semitism, one can see certain thoughts about conquest in Nietzsche. In “Beyond Good and Evil,” he speaks of “an increase in the menace of Russia that Europe would have to resolve to become menacing, too…”(1247). Calling for unification by whatever means necessary, he states, “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”(1247).
‹Any Nazi who read such a text fragment would certainly see Hitler and Nazi Germany as the bringers of an eventual peace, and as the last bastion of defense for Europe. Of his will to power, Nietzsche states that “Life…is specifically a will to the accumulation of force…nothing wants to preserve itself, everything is to be added and accumulated”(Oaklander, 81). Taken figuratively, one can relate Nietzsche’s words to the expansion of an empire. Of course, Nietzsche’s prophetic claim that a battle for the world was coming left out the potential role of a democratic experiment only a century old at this point: The United States of America.
‹On democracies, Nietzsche argued that they were the small-minded herd in control, a glorification of the slave morality, which could only hold back an overman. Taking a view of society somewhat similar to a view of laissez-faire capitalism, Nietzsche believes that it is the overmen that drive the progress of society, much like entrepreneurs drive capitalism. Thus, he says, democracy is “a form of the decay, namely the diminution, of man, making him mediocre and lowering his value”(1240). A nation-state in which the overmen ruled the masses would therefore seem to be the only tolerable governmental system. And we see that the police state totalitarianism of Germany, complete with secret police, ruled by Hitler, who was presumably the supreme overman, fits the bill of a total non-democracy rather well. The Nietzsche-Nazi parallels are striking.
‹Of course, as all people do, Hitler and the Nazis may have forgotten some of the passages of Nietzsche, such as “certainly the state in which we hurt others is rarely as agreeable, in an unadulterated way, as that in which we benefit others; it is a sign that we are still lacking power…”(Oaklander 82). This would imply that Hitler, indeed, was a weak man, and that Nazism was weak, for it brought suffering on millions of others, including the population of Germany. Indeed, a great deal of being an overman is being recognized for it–distinguishing oneself–but Nietzsche might argue that Hitler was a barbarian. As Nietzsche says, “the barbarian imposes on others on whom and before whom he wants to distinguish himself”(Oaklander, 82). By killing his own people, by invading other countries as swiftly as lightning and as certainly as death, Hitler proved himself to be quite weak, from a Nietzschean standpoint. And, if one applies what Nietzsche says about philosophies to overmen and “overnations”, one can see that when an overman begins to believe in his own incredible greatness, he will fall, for he will be blind to the truth, and when a nation believes in its own invincibility, than to the dust shall it return.
‹Hitler, by making his people believe in him, made them small, for as Nietzsche concludes, “the man of faith, the believer, is necessarily a small type of man. Hence, ‘freedom of spirit’ i.e., unbelief as an instinct is a precondition of greatness”(Oaklander 79). And yet, as German forces were overrun by the Allies toward the latter days of the European saga of World War II, Hitler chose to blame
‹the people of Germany, saying that they had let him down. However, if the believer is weak, had he not weakened them intentionally, so that he might gain power, and be the distinguished overman? Or had he weakened by believing in his own invincibility?
‹One can see where many pieces of the Nietzschean philosophy of the late 1800’s could have been the underpinnings of much of Nazi thought and propaganda. If indeed Hitler was fighting the battle for dominion of the earth, than his loss is a loss for the overmen everywhere. If, on the other hand, Hitler was an insane man, as Nietzsche became, than the victory over totalitarianism and tyranny is a sweeping victory for the freedom for mankind, and a defeat for the philosophies of Nietzsche. But of course, as Nietzsche said, there are no facts, only interpretations.