Search This Blog

24 April 2013

Nietzsche Against the Nazis

"Of all the misplaced and unwarranted prejudices to envelop Nietzsche, surely the most baleful is his association in the popular mind with the extremist politics of national socialism." ( - Allison, Pg. 1)

Nietzsche Against the Nazis

Before getting directly into this topic, let us state clearly that Nietzsche himself was not a Nazi and could never have been. Nietzsche died long before the Nazi party was formed, and his writings did not call for the creation of such an organization or define a possible one. In fact, Nietzsche spoke out against the nationalism and racial intolerance he saw growing in his native Germany, and warned against the possible future he came to see.

Does this mean that the Nazis had no contact with Nietzsche's work? Not at all. It is obvious that they did try to use his writings, and that of others, to provide some sort of intellectual support for their ideologies. Where they could not find living writers who shared their views, they resorted to unsubstantiated myths, occult mysticism, and a wholesale rewriting of history and science to create what they claimed to be a "logical foundation" for their views.

Nietzsche's philosophy fell into this last case. The Nazis took bits and pieces of his writings and forced it into a context they approved of, encasing fragments of his work in a wall of their own words and images, to achieve an alteration of the points he supported in favor of their own. They then marketed this interpretation through books written by Party sanctioned scholars which claimed to explain Nietzsche's theories. Often his ideas totally contradicted what the Nazis believed, so they simply omitted these parts and suppressed their publication. The points they agreed with, they put into practice in a way that showed either a total misunderstanding of Nietzsche's assertions, or an intentional ignoring of his true thoughts and feelings.

But the origins of Nietzsche's abuse at the hands of racists does not begin with the Nazis. To find this starting point, we must look to his sister.

"We now know, definitively, that the association [with national socialism] concerned his sister, Elisabeth, rather than Nietzsche himself, but this unfortunate prejudice persists, and it continues to operate at a distance, even upon his most well-intentioned reader."

From - Reading the New Nietzsche - Pg. 1
- David B. Allison

Frau Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche

While at times close with his sister in a family sense, it is well documented that Nietzsche's feelings for her ranged from love to hate, partly because of her incessant meddling in both his intellectual and personal affairs (she even ruined a relationship he had with a woman he cared deeply for). But the primary cause of tension was the result of his realization that she embodied the exact opposite of what he wrote of and believed. Contrary to Nietzsche, nationalistic intolerance and racism were concepts his sister fully embraced, so much so, that she became engaged to the well known anti-Semitic propagandist Bernhard Forster. Nietzsche was so thoroughly disgusted with the arrangement that he openly stated his disapproval and refused to attend the wedding.

"I will not conceal that I consider this engagement an insult - or a stupidity which will harm you as much as me."

- Friedrich Nietzche, in a letter to his sister.

"The situation has changed, and I have broken radically with my sister: for heaven's sake, don't think of mediation or reconciliation - between a vengeful anti-Semitic goose and me there is no reconciliation."

- Friedrich Nietzche, in a letter to Malwilda von Meysenbug.

Not only did he disapprove of the relationship, but he was enraged with the reflection it made on himself, and the connection anti-Semites tried to suggest due to his sister's involvement with Forster. Over fifty years before the Nazis came to power, Nietzsche spoke of how sickened he was by the attempts anti-Semitic groups made to try to pressure him into agreeing with their principles and silence his outspoken criticism of their views (the following excerpt should also make it very clear to those reading it just what kind of opinion Nietzsche would have held on later anti-Semitic groups such as the Nazi Party).

"One of the greatest stupidities you [Elisabeth] 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. I have been persecuted in recent times with letters and Anti-Semitic Correspondence sheets; my disgust with the party (which would like all too well the advantage of my name!) is as outspoken as possible, but the relation to Forster, as well as the after-effect of my former anti-Semitic publisher Schmeitzner, always brings the adherents of this disagreeable party back to the idea that I must after all belong to them.... Above all it arouses mistrust against my character, as if I publicly condemned something which I favored secretly - and that I am unable to do anything against it, that in every Anti-Semitic Correspondence sheet the name Zarathustra is used has already made me almost sick several times."

- Friedrich Nietzche, in a letter to his sister.

Regardless of Nietzsche's repeated objection, the two were married in 1885, and together set about promoting their shared political views. Elisabeth spent the sum of her modest inheritance attempting to support their projects and build her husband's image as a "cultural hero." After a scandal involving Forster's assault of some Jewish Germans, the couple emigrated to Paraguay in the attempt to lead the founding of an all-German colony bent on the concept of racial and cultural purity (an "Aryan" state). This endeavor was doomed to failure and resulted in the death of Forster four years later (1889), bringing Elisabeth back to Germany once again, penniless and in lack of support.

Just before her return, fortune would have it that Nietzsche's health finally failed him (1889), ending his career as a writer. Already hospitalized as a helpless and incompetent invalid, his sister quickly seized opportunity. First she obtained a court order, returning the "Nietzsche" to her name and making her Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche to help reestablish a recognizable connection with her brother, and then she threatened to sue their mother for control of Nietzsche's estate and affairs... including a number of unpublished manuscripts...

"In the face of a public lawsuit filed by her own daughter, Frau Nietzsche relinquished control of the entire estate to Elisabeth. With her brother's manuscripts in hand, Elisabeth set up a Nietzsche Archive and presided over the editing and publishing of the material. Having control of Nietzsche's writings, Elisabeth saw fit to publish only the material she thought highly of, and she deleted a considerable volume of work in which Nietzsche was highly critical of German nationalism, with its emphasis on racial purity, ethnic identity, and cultural genius. She also ignored extensive material in which Nietzsche expressed toleration, even praise, of racial or ethnic equality, political internationalism, and cultural diversity. To buttress the import of the writings she was then beginning to put out, she forged several letters in her brother's name and altered many others, thus making it appear as if she had been entrusted with the task she so shamelessly assumed, as if Nietzsche himself had appointed her to be his chosen successor and interpreter."

From - Reading the New Nietzsche - Pg. 2-3
- David B. Allison

Her control of Nietzsche's work, and his now inability to further object, enabled her to begin a renewed campaign of support for her own causes - nationalism, anti-Semitism, cultural purity - no matter how much Nietzsche himself would not have approved of them. She immediately set about using his name as a means to attract attention to herself and her aims, and started manipulating the interpretation of her brother's philosophy to this end. Though he himself had written her in the past bluntly stating how much he was against these things, how much he did not want his work associated with them, and how disgusted he was with the want of anti-Semites to somehow abuse his name, she herself not only allowed this to happen, but created the circumstance for its occurance.

"Nietzsche's sister had mocked her brother's claims to fame, but then, switching to his cause after her husband's suicide, she took private lessons in Nietzsche's philosophy from Rudolf Steiner, a Gothe scholar who later became famous as the founder of anthroposophy. Soon Steiner gave her up as simply incapable of understanding Nietzsche. Meanwhile she became her brother's official exegate and biographer, tampered with his letters - and was taken seriously by almost everyone."

Editor's Introduction - 2
From - Ecce Homo (Behold The Man)
- Friedrich Nietzsche - ed. Walter Kaufmann

Nietzsche's popularity had only started to really grow after he became incompetent, so demand for newer printings of his work developed during the time after Elisabeth controlled them, meaning that the first mass marketing of Nietzsche's writings was of those versions she had edited and approved of. Suppressing ideas which conflicted with her own, and claiming her own thoughts to be the "correct" interpretation of her brother's work, Elisabeth recreated Nietzsche's public image as she desired. The fact she was the author's sister, claimed to hold unpublished material, and often quoted letters and conversations she said she had had with Nietzsche in the past, made it difficult for scholars to contest her assertions, even if his own texts and past correspondence suggested a different view. The result was her effective control of his interpretation for the better part of fifty years.

"She jealously established and guarded her authority by first gaining exclusive rights to all of her brother's literary remains and then refusing to publish some of the most important among them, while insisting doubly on the significance. Nobody could challenge her interpretations with any authority, since she was the guardian of yet unpublished material - and developed an increasingly precise memory for what her brother had said to her in conversation. Finally, she blended all these considerations with a shrewd business sense."

From - Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist - Pg. 5
- Walter Kaufmann

The obvious association of her name with Nietzsche through the shared surname, and then with anti-Semitic press publications as a result of her activities, only furthered the assumed connection between Nietzsche and these groups. Though he had criticized them in the past, and refused association with their causes, his failed health left him unable to discredit the assumptions which arose as a result of his sister's actions, and the connection to him that was assumed in reaction to her being Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche.

"That was but the beginning. Far worse mischief followed. Nietzsche's voice was drowned out as misinterpretations that he had explicitly repudiated with much wit and malice were accepted and repeated, and repeated and accepted, until most readers knew what to expect before they read Nietzsche, and so read nothing but what they had long expected."

Editor's Introduction - 1
From - Ecce Homo (Behold The Man)
- Friedrich Nietzsche - ed. Walter Kaufmann

Enter - the Nazi Party

Friedrich Nietzsche died on August 25th, 1900, after over ten years as an invalid. During this time he was clinically incompetent and wrote no new additions to his philosophy or anything else. In those ten years prior to his death, and the decades following it, his sister exhibited near absolute control over the interpretation and publication of his work. Her prior held beliefs on race and culture greatly influenced the direction she took with them.

"Seeking and receiving financial support from both the Hindenburg government and the National Socialist Party, she [Elisabeth] was particularly encouraged by the latter. Indeed, because of her marriage to Forster, she was elevated by the Nazi Party to the status of a far-seeing prophetess. With the political and financial support of that party, she and her cousin Max Oehler continued to direct the publication of the unpublished manuscripts."

From - Reading the New Nietzsche - Pg. 3
- David B. Allison

This support by the growing Nazi Party led to it's direct involvement in the promotion and interpretation of Nietzsche's work... something Elisabeth fully supported and involved herself in. Taking pieces of Nietzsche's writings out of context, and fusing them with their own agendas, men like Max Oehler and Alfred Baumler altered portions of the philosopher's themes and assertions to appear as if they supported the basic ideology of the Nazi Party. They then published their findings in books of their own, claiming them to be commentaries and scholarly examinations of Nietzsche's "true" ideas. Where Nietzsche's writings conflicted with their own, they either ignored the text or claimed it to not really be what he had meant to say.

"Since he [Oehler] was one of the chief representatives of the Nietzsche Archive and a co-editor of the collected works, his early abandonment of all accepted standards of scholarship, almost immediately after Hitler came to power, served as an invitation to other, less-well-known 'Nietzscheans' to help prove the contention that Nietzsche was a precursor of Nazism."

From - Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist - Pg. 289-290
- Walter Kaufmann

The end effect was the creation of what the Nazis' heralded as the "official philosophy of national socialism," even though the actual writings of the man they attempted to associate with this - Nietzsche - did not agree with their philosophy at all.

"What is important here is merely that Nietzsche's views are quite unequivocally opposed to those of the Nazis - more so than those of almost any other prominent German of his own time or before him - and that these views are not temperamental antitheses but corollaries of his philosophy. Nietzsche was no more ambiguous in this respect than is the statement that the Nazis' way of citing him represents one of the darkest pages in the history of literary unscrupulousness."

From - Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist - Pg. 303-304
- Walter Kaufmann

But Nazi ideology was not based on the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche anyway. The angle of effect was the reverse. Instead of his ideas being the basis for the Party's creation, it was their ideology being forced into Nietzsche's ideas. The Party had already been founded and well established, with its original political manifestos in place, before the Nazis looked to Nietzsche's work and began to see any usefulness in the exploitation of his name, and publication of their own commentaries on his writings.

"And it is perhaps pertinent to observe, though it takes us beyond the actual span of Nietzsche's life, that his sister doggedly persuaded the Nazis to accept her brother as their philosopher, and that it was in response to her insistent invitations that Hitler eventually visited the Nietzsche Archive."

From - Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist - Pg. 46
- Walter Kaufmann

The source of the relationship between Nietzsche and the Nazis was not even the National Socialists themselves, but his sister's own fanaticism and want to use Nietzsche's name as a means to propel herself into the national eye, further promote her political views, and quite simply profit monetarily.

Yet even with the creative interpretation of his writings, and alteration of some of his points to mean things they supported, the Nazi Party could not really claim Nietzsche to be "their philosopher." Commentaries written by Nazi sympathizers could only put so much of a "spin" on Nietzsche's own text, and the repression of material by his sister could only go so far. Too much of his actual writings too clearly contradicted the Nazi beliefs, even with the efforts to change their impression in the minds of the common populace.

"Since Nietzsche could not really become the philosopher of the National Socialists, they eventually abandoned him without further ado."

From - Nietzsche: An Introduction
- Karl Jaspers

Anyone looking further than the Nazi approved surface, and the few out of context passages they often threw around, could see that the reality was different from the picture being painted. Men like Karl Jaspers (a then professor at Heidelberg University), who were living and teaching in Germany at the time (1935), took it upon themselves to "marshall against the National Socialists the world of thought of the man they had proclaimed as their own philosopher" ( - Jaspers), and in this dangerous quest for truth and scholastic integrity, found themselves ostracized by the National Socialist dominated country they lived in by order of the Party itself (Jasper was discharged from his professorship after the publication of his book, "Nietzsche," offended the Nazis).

The Effects of Manipulation

With the rise of the Nazi Party on the world stage, and the growing fear of war in Europe, international attention fell on Germany and the political movement which had taken hold of that nation. The name of "Nietzsche" started to be heard by the ears of those outside the academic community, and the initial exposure they had to it was the version the Nazi Party had created and sought to promote through books written by their own scholars. This promotion was part of the huge propaganda machine behind the German National Socialists, which tried to create their own versions of history and science. This was done with the intention of rewriting the world's knowledge to reflect what they wished it to be, regardless of what the truth might have been. Had the Second World War gone as they wished, the Nazis intended history books to read quite differently from what they do today, fitting their own ideology, world view and take on the past. Alteration and flat-out fabrication were the hallmark of this attempt to rewrite history, and the work of many more scholars than just Nietzsche was perverted and abused as the Nazis sought to achieve their goals.

It is a tragedy that a man who openly declared himself an "anti-anti-Semite" and who had grown to become so disgusted with the nationalistic intolerance of his native land that he willingly lived in exile from it during the majority of his adult life, was to have both his name and his work so abused and misrepresented on the world stage, as to portray something quite the contrary to what he truly felt... and all as a result of his work's selfish mishandling by his own sister.

"Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth, is the manipulative presence behind the Nietzsche-Nazi myth. She was indeed sympathetic to the growing fascist cause and married to a notorious anti-Semite of whom Nietzsche thoroughly disapproved. It was she, years after her brother's death, who invited Hitler for his 'photo-op' at the Nietzsche Archive. Elisabeth took over Nietzsche's literary estate after his incapacitation, and she even published apocryphal books and 'editions' of Nietzsche's notes under his by-then famous name.

Unfortunately, Elisabeth's political views became firmly attached to Nietzsche's name, and the association survived even the expose' of her forgeries and misappropriation of Nietzsche's works. Yet we can say with confidence, that Nietzsche was no Nazi and that he shared virtually none of the Nazis' vicious ideas about the 'Thousand Year Reich' and the superiority of the German race. Indeed, Nietzsche famously declared himself 'a good European' and lamented the fact that his native language was German. He spent virtually his entire adult life, from his professorship in Switzerland through his voluntary exile in and around the Alps, until his last moments of sanity in northern Italy, outside of Germany.

From - What Nietzsche Really Said - Pg. 10-11
- Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins

But the damage had been done...

"Only with the aftermath of the Second World War was it finally established that Nietzsche's thought had been distorted beyond recognition to serve the personal, financial, and political interests of his sister and to lend intellectual 'support' to the desperate aims of a totalitarian government. But by then, almost fifty years after Nietzsche's death, the damage had been done. A large part of two generations of educated Europeans would come to regard Nietzsche as the prophet of an unspeakable tyranny."

From - Reading the New Nietzsche - Pg. 3
- David B. Allison

After Elisabeth's death in 1935, and the fall of the Third Reich in 1945, scholars were finally able to gain access to Nietzsche's original works, which had been prior held from public view by his sister. Through a process of examination and comparison, they uncovered the alterations and forgeries she had committed, along with a collection of letters and notes. With her no longer in sole control of the publication of Nietzsche's writings, and the true source material now available, new versions of his work were able to be published in a reedited form that took them back to what he had intended. In keeping with earlier printings, and the original manuscripts which had been uncovered, these corrected volumes caused a renewed analysis of Nietzsche's work and proceeded to have a profound and lasting impact on the intellectual world.


Most modern authors no longer feel it is necessary to return to this particular argument as part of the study of Nietzsche. They see it's repetition as something no longer refuting the obvious falsehoods, but keeping the memory of his work's abuse alive. Many feel that the subject itself was thoroughly refuted by Walter Kaufmann in his "Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist," and instead of entertaining a topic whose illegitimacy only causes disgust, often refer back to this text as providing adequate response to the nonsense claims of racist extremists and cause ridden "Chicken-Littles."

The study of Nietzsche is moving beyond the effects of the past, and back to the truth behind the brilliance of the man's own words. The last fifty years has seen a steady correction of his misrepresentation at the hands of Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche and the National Socialists, along with an exposure of the false characterizations, absurd interpretations presented, and forged letters she long claimed as support. As a result, Nietzsche's work is ever growing in popularity, and is today studied as seriously as any of his scholarly peers, with a diverse selection of readers taking up his writings on their own initiative.

"In February of 1985, the College of Liberal Arts and philosophy, German, and literature departments of the University of Texas at Austin sponsored a symposium on the subject 'Reading Nietzsche.' Behind the conference was the recognition of Nietzsche's renewed importance, not just as a rediscovered topic or tool for intellectual criticism for scholars but as a profound source of inspiration for students. Students were reading him whether or not he was required reading in courses. Students were discussing him, taking his side, even when the scholarly opposition turned against them."

From - Reading Nietzsche
- ed. Robert C. Solomon and Kathleen M. Higgins

But the stigma of the word "Nazi" still casts a shadow on Nietzsche's name... one that the uninformed cling to in response to ignorance and eagerly sought sensationalism.

"Anyone who takes these passages seriously, points them out, or even goes so far as to be ensnared and guided by them has neither the maturity nor the right to read Nietzsche."

From - Nietzsche: An Introduction
- Karl Jaspers

- Arius

No comments: