Nietzsche’s Politics

It is often said that human behaviour is unpredictable – indeed, it is entirely predictable that this will be said when the issue of a science of humanity arises – but the following prediction is one which I have yet to find falsified: Whenever the issue of Nietzsche’s politics is raised there were will one, or both, of these responses:

1) His work is an ‘open text’ in that any statement in it will be contradicted somewhere else. I will not pursue this, but challenge anyone who holds it to find contrary statements to those which I will cite.

2) That the basis for the NSDAP’s appropriation of Nietzsche is the falsification by his sister of his later MSS, mainly those published under the English title of The Will to Power. This point is refuted by the fact that the current scholarly edition of that work is edited by two of his leading English apologists, Walter Kaufman and R J Hollingdale. This edition contains a number of remarks which are entirely in accord with the philosophy of National Socialism, and are in no way disowned by his liberal apologists,

The reason that this matters is because a persistent theme in recent European and American academia has been to deny, or to excuse, the Nazi affiliations of a number of figures in European high culture over the last century or so: Nietzsche, C J Jung, Martin Heidegger, Leni Reifenstahl – whose Nazi affiliations are as plain as can be [1]. The basic reason for this, it seems to me, is clear: It is majorly important for many to present Hitler and National Socialism as inexplicable aberrations in the normal order of European history and politics – as if they had dropped out of a clear sky like an asteroid-strike. From this position it then becomes necessary to deny that major European intellectuals and artists could have shared any of the central categories of Nazi philosophy.

This is related to the fact that many histories of Europe – certainly in English – fail to explain the importance of the German Revolution of November 1918; indeed many will not even use the ‘R-word’ but will make some fumbling mention of ‘disturbances’, which somehow led to the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm and the founding of the Weimar Republic. Its importance is that the failure of the SDP to carry-through the November Revolution enabled the re-grouping of the ‘old order’ which initially used the NSDAP, only to be engulfed by it.

In order to understand National Socialism it is necessary to grasp that many of its central positions were advanced by major European intellectuals and that many of its views are extreme versions of ideas which are the commonplaces of the conservative mind-set. The failure to take this seriously is, it seems to me, a feature of the present-day which is vastly more dangerous than the episodic racism which liberals and soft-leftists spend so much energy in denouncing.

Nietzsche and Bismarck

I experienced this blindness to the actual politics of Nietzsche a few months ago at a meeting of the Oxford Philosophy Society. I mentioned that when Nietzsche criticised Bismarck – a fact often cited by his apologists and liberal falsifiers – this was not at all because Bismarck was the architect of the militarist Prussian Empire; but was because Bismarck was insufficiently imperialist: for Nietzsche, the ‘iron chancellor’ was too soft. This point was rejected as being just obviously wrong. So this is a good place to look at Nietzsche’s actual position.

One of the major critics of Nietzsche, George Lukács, writes [2]:

This era which Nietzsche accused Bismarck of failing to understand was to be the era of great wars … Bismarck was not militarist enough for Nietzsche … [his] Bismarck critique rested solely on the contention that Bismarck did not grasp the problems of the impending imperialist period, and was therefore incapable of solving them by way of reactionary aggression. He was, therefore, criticising Bismarck from the Right.

George Lukács, The Destruction of Reason, trans. Peter Palmer, Merlin Press, 1980, p340

The failing of Bismarck, for Nietzsche, was that he was too German-minded, and was content to have merely unified Germany, and to stop there [3]. Furthermore, Bismarck had done so by paying lip-service to parliamentarianism and was thus pandering to the “mob”.

Nietzsche was absolutely clear as to what he wanted:

such an increase in the Russian threat that Europe would have to resolve to become equally threatening, namely to acquire a single will by means of a new caste dominating all Europe .. so that the long-drawn-out comedy of its petty states and the divided will of its dynasties and democracies should finally come to an end. The time for petty politics is past: the very next century will bring it the grand struggle for mastery over the whole earth – the compulsion to grand politics.

(Beyond Good and Evil §208; Hollingdale trans., Penguin, 1982, p119)

This position is echoed in a contemporary MSS, published as The Will to Power:

would it not be a kind of goal, redemption and justification for the democratic movement itself if someone arrived who could make use of it – by finally producing .. a higher kind of dominating and Caesarian spirits who would stand upon it, maintain themselves by it, and elevate themselves through it?

(§954, Kaufman & Hollingdale trans., Vintage, 1968, p501)

It was surely a neat ‘eternal recurrence’ that the Caesar who did so – who climbed up the ladder and then kicked it away – was then, in his turn, to be rejected by the greatest philosopher of his movement – Martin Heidegger – as being insufficiently national socialist [4] . Nietzsche’s support for imperialist war was reiterated in Ecce Homo, ‘Why I am a Destiny’ §1.

For Nietzsche, this need for war was driven by the cultural imperative that surplus-extraction be via slavery. This position is states as unambiguously as it could be in this passage from ‘The Greek State’

In order for there to be a broad, deep, fertile soil for the development of art, the overwhelming majority has to be slavishly subjected to life’s necessities in the service of the minority, beyond the measure that is necessary for the individual. At their expense, through their extra work, that privileged class is to be removed from the struggle for existence, in order to produce and satisfy a new world of necessities. … slavery belongs to the essence of a culture … the misery of men living a life of toil has to be increased to make the production of the word of art possible for a small number of Olympian men.

(On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. Carol Diethe, CUP, 1994, p178)

It is no co-incidence that this text appeared in that year when the Parisian people established the first workers’ rule and were then massacred by ‘the slaveholders’ conspiracy’ [5].

Nor is it a co-incidence that the cultural sensibility which routinely disses Marx as being responsible for Stalinism counts Nietzsche, Heidegger and Jung amongst its heroes; the work of all of these is saturated with the themes of National Socialism. Nor is it a co-incidence that the state whose academies are ‘dominated’ by the first two of these [6] is now answering Nietzsche’s question: ‘Who will be the lords of the earth?’ .

How National Socialists interpret Nietzsche

To show the blindness of liberals to the real politics of Nietzsche I have on, a couple of occasion when giving lectures on Nietzsche, began by saying that Nietzsche’s philosophy is difficult to summarise, but that I will try to give a rough introduction.

I then give the following presentation (within lines of asterisks), which I pretend is in my own words, but is in fact largely made up of direct quotes from pro-Nietzsche Nazis (in italic text). I include some quotes from Nietzsche (in bold text), and linking comments of my own (in plain text).

After each quote I give the source, but only read these out at the end, after the audience had agreed that they have heard a fair summary of Nietzsche.

I have then asked the audience if they think this is an acceptable way to present Nietzsche. On both occasions, there was no dissent from this. I then point out that they have just agreed that a Nazi reading of Nietzsche is actually correct

*************************************************************

Text in italic: quotes from sources given
Text in bold: quotes from Nietzsche
Text in regular: my own gloss on the quotes

Nietzsche’s thinking and writing was done for the purpose of gaining spiritual freedom for himself and others like him. Freedom: That means to become free of the old moral values and biases. Such old values originated in decadence … (p 12) Nietzsche was a revolutionary who stood for a new world of pure values based on the idea of a philosopher who lived his ideas. This new world will involve a catastrophic break with the old. In Zarathustra, he writes that:

He who wants to be a creator in good and evil, truly, he must first be a destroyer and smash values.True revolutionary change occurs only when preceded or accompanied by a change in spiritual values. The creator of new values is thus the truest revolutionary … (p 14)

To know a man, and the writings of a philosopher, requires first of all that you know his leading idea (p 15), For Nietzsche, this arose out of his insight into the greatness of Classical Greek humanity, he recognised Greek culture: As the expression and result of a truly exuberant life – which he termed ‘Dionysian’- of human beings who were stronger, fuller and sounder than anyone living at his time. Furthermore, he saw that true human greatness is inseparable from strength and other virtues largely condemned by modern Christian and democratic concepts. (p 15)

Nietzsche emphasises the importance of spiritual strength and standing against a culture premised on mediocrity.The strongest individuals are those who oppose and resist society’s general trends and rules, the rules of the majority, and successfully struggle against them.(p16)

ITALICISED TEXT FROM:

Bruno Luedtke, ‘Nietzsche and National Socialism – Letters to an American Friend’ Pt I, National Socialist, No 1, Summer 1980 (this was the journal of the American National Socialist Party)

——————————–

Nietzsche realized that all sound feelings in Man, all natural values, have been perverted into their opposite by Christianity and thus promote the degeneration of life instead of its further rises (p 22) … Man must now go on to something much higher than he is at present. Nietzsche saw the propagation of this idea as one of his primary missions in life … (p 22) This higher being of the future, or the higher race of the millennia to come, was called Uebermensch by Nietzsche. The English term ‘superman is a rather bad translation, and the popular conception of it has nothing to do at all with what Nietzsche meant by Uebermensch ‘ … Toward this aim of upbreeding mankind Nietzsche sought the restoration of natural values .. as opposed to the unnatural and artificial Christian morality. True goodness, he felt, is exemplified by the proud, strong, healthy, self-confident man who says ‘Yes’ to life. (p 22)

ITALICISED TEXT FROM:

Bruno Luedtke , ‘Nietzsche and National Socialism – Letters to an American Friend’ Pt II, National Socialist, No 2, Fall 1980

——————————–

The foundations of Christian morality – religious individualism, a guilty conscience, meekness, concern for the eternal salvation of the soul – all are absolutely foreign to Nietzsche. (p 98) … Nietzsche’s ‘values’ have nothing to do with the Beyond, and therefore cannot be petrified into dogma. In ourselves, through us, they rise struggling to the surface; they exist only as long as we make ourselves responsible for them. When Nietzsche warns ‘Be true to the Earth !’ he reminds us of the idea that is rooted in our strength but does not hope for ‘realization’ in a distant Beyond (p 99)

ITALICISED TEXT FROM:

Alfred Baeumler, Studien zur deutschen Geistesgeschichte, in George L Mosse, Nazi Culture, Schocken, New York, 1981

——————————–

Yet what has happened in ‘the West’ is that generation after generation were nurtured by Christian myths and stories – myths and stories which, put bluntly, exhort the virtues of the meek, the coward and the idiot, as Nietzsche and others have described. It is safe to say that we are and have suffered from the effects of this centuries-old indoctrination – an indoctrination continued in this present century by the spread of other ideas rooted, like Christianity, in the ethos of another race. These ideas are, of course, liberalism and Marxian-socialism.

ITALICISED TEXT FROM:

David Myatt, Early Essays,

http://www.davidmyatt.f2s.com/texts/early_essays%5B7%5D

——————————–

We live in a culture which denigrates the exceptional and celebrates the mediocre. The genius of modern science has, paradoxically enabled a form of life in which the healthy will to affirmation and achievement has become stifled in the physical and cultural products of mass culture. To escape from this crisis demands .. a ‘higher type’ of man, of the kind foreseen by Nietzsche but rejected by most of his contemporaries and ours. It must be a type of man capable of rising above the solipsist clamour of the mob, and also above the temptations to ease and comfort offered by the push-button era. What we need, in effect, is a new species of aristocracy, possessing the will to live again in harmony with nature, and to direct society in accordance with that imperative. (p 410)

ITALICISED TEXT FROM:

John Tyndall, The Eleventh Hour – A Call for British Rebirth, Albion Press, n.d., but Foreword written in 1988 [8]

*************************************************************

Nietzsche’s Support for Slavery, War and Despotism

To show that none of these readings are inconsistent with the actual postion of Nietzsche, here is some textual evidence (there is more) for my claim that the NSDAP’s reception of Nietzsche has far more merit than the liberal one. I will let Nietzsche speak for himself in those words which are so conspicuously ignored by his liberal apologists.

‘The Greek State’ (1871) is conveniently available in the edition of On the Genealogy of Morality in the series Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought (1994). This short essay clearly extols the virtue of slavery as a precondition for the development of culture. Note that this work was written in the year of the Paris Commune which was a working-class revolt which was seen , at the time, to be as threatening to the established order as – for several decades – was the Russian Revolution of 1917.

In order for there to be a broad, deep, fertile soil for the development of art, the overwhelming majority has to be slavishly subjected to life’s necessities in the service of the minority, beyond the measure that is necessary for the individual. At their expense, through their extra work, that privileged class is to be removed from the struggle for existence, in order to produce and satisfy a new world of necessities. … slavery belongs to the essence of a culture … the misery of men living a life of toil has to be increased to make the production of the word of art possible for a small number of Olympian men. ***P ?***

Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

Every elevation of the type “man” has hitherto been the work of an aristocratic society – and so it will always be: a society which believes in a long scale of orders of rank and differences of worth between man and man and needs slavery in some sense or other (sect 257)

The essential thing in a good and healthy aristocracy is, however that is does not feel itself to be a function (of the monarchy or of the commonwealth) but as their meaning and supreme justification – that it therefore accepts with a good conscience the sacrifice of innumerable men who for its sake have to be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments. Its fundamental faith must be that society should not exist for the sake of society but only as a foundation and scaffolding upon which a select species of being is able to raise itself to its higher task and in general to a higher existence (sect 258)

The Genealogy of Morality (1887)

The knightly-aristocratic value judgements presuppose a powerful physicality, a flourishing, abundant, even overflowing health, together with that which serves to preserve it: war, adventure, hunting, dancing, war games … All that has been done on earth against “the noble”, “the powerful”, “the masters”, “the rulers”, fades into nothing compared with what the Jews have done against them … with the Jews there begins the slave revolt in morality (1st essay, sect 7)

The Will to Power (1883 – 88) (Kaufmann & Hollingdale’s edn., 1968)

A Declaration of war on the masses by higher men is needed ! Everywhere the mediocre are combining in order to make themselves master ! (p 458)

Finally: the social hodgepodge, consequence of the Revolution, the establishment of equal rights, of the superstition of “equal men” … whoever still wants to retain power flatters the mob, works with the mob, must have the mob on its side (p 461)

…Once we posses that common economic management of the earth that will soon be inevitable, mankind will be able to find its best meaning as a machine in the service of this economy … in opposition to this dwarfing and adaptation of man to a specialised utility, a reverse movement is needed .. this transformation of man into a machine is a precondition, as a base on which he can invent his higher form of being … A dominating race can grow up only out of terrible and violent beginnings. Problem: where are the barbarians of the twentieth century ? Obviously they will come into being and consolidate themselves only after tremendous socialist crises (pp 463 – 5)

The apologists for Nietzsche claim, of course, that these quotes misrepresent Nietzsche. What they fail to do is cite texts which contradict or modify them. It is also said that I am premising the above on an “old fashioned” ideology of the text as containing its own meaning, rather than as being constructed in the act of reading … and so … and so; fans of “genealogy” will recall that it is Nietzsche himself who is kowtowed to as the font of this fashionable nonsense.

The standard response by liberals to reference to the above remarks and similar is to ignore them, and those works which take them seriously. It is noteworthy here that Hollingdale [9], in the 1999 postscript to his seminal Nietzsche, after praising Derrida continues: ‘I have experienced nothing over the past thirty years that has led me to think that the account of Nietzsche’s life and philosophy I give here is in need of correction except in a few small details.’ There is no discussion of, or even reference to, Lukacs’ The Destruction of Reason, or to John Carey’s The Intellectuals and the Masses. So it appears that both a marxist philosopher and a conservative Professor of English are alike beneath notice in these postmodern times. Both of these works should be read by anyone who thinks that Nietzsche is innocent of the charge of being a philosopher whose thought was of the same kind as National Socialism. Also worth reading are Arno J Mayer’s, The Persistence of the Old Regime, (Croom Helm, 1981), pp285-90 and Elizabeth Wiskemannn’s The Rome-Berlin Axis, (Fontana, 1967), Ch 1

Nietzsche rightly holds that no philosophical stance is disinterested, but that it must express an attitude towards power (how he would have sneered at his softy acolytes in the Culture Studies Industry!). So what is my own interest? If the only choice were between ‘master-morality’ and ‘slave-morality’ then I would unashamedly choose the former. But I do not believe this is the choice. I am on the side of the (wage)slaves – not synonymous with being for ‘slave-morality’ – and for a societal order which is not premised on forced labour.

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NOTES

[1] A recent book by Sheldon Wolin shows the National Socialist affiliations of a number of the major thinkers who have formed Postmodernism. The strongest example of this is Martin Heidegger, who was actually a member of the NSDAP.

[2] It should be realised that this book itself is controversial. It was written at a time when Lukács, a leading marxist philosopher, was an apologist for Stalin.

[3] Robert K Massie, Dreadnought, Jonathan Cape, 1992, p76

[4] An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. Ralph Mannheim, Anchor Books, 1962, p159. Nietzsche was suggesting that perhaps democracy – which he hated – might have a purpose in world history if it produced a new dictator – a Caesar – who would use democratic methods to attain power, and then abolish democracy. This is precisely what was done by the NSDAP. ‘Eternal recurrence’ is one of Nietzsche’s most famous notions – to my mind a banality which shows that he does not deserve to be taken seriously. The point here is that Martin Heidegger – who some regard as one of the greatest philosophers of the last century – was actually a member of the Nazi party, which he celebrated in his famous rectorial address at Freiburg University. Shortly afterwards he came to reject Hitler as not being enough of a real National Socialist. Yes, you read it correctly! One of today’s most fashionable philosophers thought that Hitler was not Nazi enough !!

The reference to the ladder is to the closing remarks in Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus where he states that anyone who has understood the book will, at that point,  realise that – on its own account of language – the work is nonsense and is like a ladder, to be pushed away once it has being used to climb up to a higher level of understanding.

[5] Karl Marx, The Civil War in France, in The First International and After, Penguin, 1981, p221

[6] ie the USA. On the poisonous influence of Nietzsche, see Alan Bloom’s , The Closing of the American Mind, Penguin, 1987. Bloom is an American conservative, who was a great influence on Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man.

[7] David Myatt is the leading theorist of National Socialism in the UK, see Nick Lowles, White Riot – The Violent Story of Combat 18, Milo Books, 2003 (Combat 18 is the most extreme and violent Nazi group in the UK). Like Nietzsche, Myatt is an admirer of the Hindu caste system. It is important to realise that much of what is often taken as an indigenous Indian institution was actually strengthened in the last half of the 19th C by the British colonial administrators – see David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism on this.

[8] Tyndall was the leading fascist in postwar Britain. He formed the National Front, the party which became the British National Party. This book is his attempt to write an English Mein Kampf – it is essential reading to understand the sensibility of fascism

[9] R J Hollingdale, along with Walter Kaufman, is one of the leading English- language translators of Nietzsche’s works and a leading apologist for his philosophy.

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