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History of Philosophy Book Club Message Board › Nietzsche, Anti-semitism, and Dictatorships

Nietzsche, Anti-semitism, and Dictatorships

user 6899431
Group Organizer
Silver Spring, MD
One of the key questions Nietzsche scholars debate is whether he was anti-semitic. Walter Kaufmann, the editor of our anthology and a fierce defender of Nietzsche after World War II, answers "no", arguing that Nietzsche was horrified by the vulgarity of anti-semites and embarrassed that his sister married one. Others insist that it is not so cut and dry, that Nietzsche made many statements that could only be construed as hateful and appealing to the worst stereotypes. This dichotomy is apparent in the following quotations:

On the Genealogy of Morals (page numbers refer to the Kaufmann anthology)

  • “It was the Jews who, with awe-inspiring consistency, dared to invert the aristocratic value-equation (good=noble=powerful=beautiful=happy=bel­oved of God) and to hang on to this inversion with their teeth, the teeth of the most abysmal hatred (the hatred of impotence), saying ‘the wretched alone are good; the poor, impotent, lowly alone are good; the suffering, deprived, sick, ugly alone are pious....with the Jews came the slave revolt in morality." (p. 470)
  • “One may conceive of this victory [of the Jews] as at the same time a blood-poisoning (it has mixed the races together)–I shan’t contradict....” (p. 472)
  • “The Jews...were the priestly nation of ressentiment par excellence, in whom there dwelt an unequaled popular-moral genius: one only has to compare similarly gifted nations–the Chinese or the Germans, for instance–with the Jews, to sense which is the first and which of the fifth rank.” (p. 489)
  • “...this plant [ressentiment] blooms best today among anarchists and anti-Semites–where it has always bloomed, in hidden places, like the violet, though with a different odor.” (p. 509)
  • “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.” (p. 580)

Beyond Good and Evil

  • "“The Jews, however, are beyond any doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe. That the Jews, if they wanted it--or if they were forced into it, which seems to be what the anti-Semites want--could even now have preponderance, indeed quite literally mastery over Europe, that is certain; that they are not working and planning for that is equally certain.” (p. 377)

The following quotations were cited in Wikiquote

  • “Unpleasant, even dangerous, qualities can be found in every nation and every individual: it is cruel to demand that the Jew be an exception. In him, these qualities may even be dangerous and revolting to an unusual degree; and perhaps the young stock-exchange Jew is altogether the most disgusting invention of mankind.” (Human, All Too Human)
  • “Could one count such dilettantes and old spinsters as that mawkish apostle of virginity, Mainlander, as a genuine German? In the last analysis he probably was a Jew (all Jews become mawkish when they moralize). “ (The Gay Science)
  • “As an artistic triumph in psychological corruption ... the Gospels, in fact, stand alone ... Here we are among Jews: this is the first thing to be borne in mind if we are not to lose the thread of the matter. This positive genius for conjuring up a delusion of personal "holiness" unmatched anywhere else, either in books or by men; this elevation of fraud in word and attitude to the level of an art — all this is not an accident due to the chance talents of an individual, or to any violation of nature. The thing responsible is race.” (The Antichrist)

Although I find the debate about his anti-semitism interesting, what interests me even more is the larger question it prompts: does Nietzsche's philosophy find its natural end in fascism and other forms of dictatorship? After all, he glorified the Superman, the dominance of the strong over the weak, the rejection of democracy, the natural joy we take in torture. If he had been alive in 1945, would he have had the moral right to sit in judgement of the Nazis? I look forward to other people’s responses at our meeting.
A former member
Post #: 52
Thank you Scott.

Regarding Nietzsche:

The generation after Walter Kaufman came other philosophers such as Arthur Danto, Robert Solomon, and Kathleen Higgins who also tried to cast Nietzsche in a positive light. With these philosophers came wonderful scholarship that really showcased the subtlety of his thought and how it is quite easy to distort what he says if one is not careful. There writings have really been a watershed for understanding how he fits together comprehensively and how it is not quite easy to run a cord between his philosophy and the barbaric, savage ideologies and behaviors of the 20th century.

This does not mean that we must not hold Nietzsche accountable for his vitriolic remarks. It does mean that we need to try to take what his thought means in a comprehensive manner. We must remember that one of his strongest ideas within his philosophy is that philosophies of the future should seek truth but should also be life affirming. This is because he was desperately trying to save us from nihilism.

If we take this as his aim, let us not be too quick to jump the gun when analyzing his ideas regarding the overman, dominance of strong over the weak, rejection of democracy, and the natural joy of torture. Let us ask ourselves if there something that he is saying that has some truth in it, despite the fact that he if often trying to be sarcastic and attempting to make us uncomfortable.

I think that if we are honest with ourselves and look past the superficial coating of his words, there is some truth to what he says. And each of the concepts that Scott has listed, if viewed from a certain perspective can be quite positive and life affirming. And the perspective afforded I think can give us insight. Let us remember that to those who knew him, he exhibited none of the characteristics or behaviors that one would associated with being a Nazi, racist, or fascist. While holding him accountable for what he says, let us try give him a chance and see if he can expose things that can increase our acumen about ourselves and the world.

Thank you.

user 6899431
Group Organizer
Silver Spring, MD
Post #: 108
Your position is certainly the dominant one with most Nietzsche scholars. One thing to talk about at our meeting is why that is so; much has been written about the strong compatibility of his metaphysics with post-modernism. I disagree with this interpretation: to embrace it you have to argue that he doesn't mean what he says (a conscious rhetorical strategy) or that he writes poorly. I believe neither.
A former member
Post #: 53
Hello Scott,

Often we can look back in time and see links in the spectrum of human thought with respect to different philosophers. To what extent is Nietzsche the harbinger of Heidegger, Foucault, and Derrida is something to be looked at.

I agree with you that I do not think it is correct to say that he doesn't mean what he say or that he writes poorly. He had an extraordinary gift for the pen surpassing all other skills that he had (right now I am thinking of his mediocre musical ability). And we must take his writing seriously.

I do think that in much of his writing there is truth but it is often couched within his own personal issues. As Freud said, Nietzsche was a man who knew himself very well... maybe a bit too well. And because he is human, all to human, he some to bequeath to us.

Alex R.
user 13714540
Baltimore, MD
Post #: 7
I like what you and Nicholas have been discussing, Scott. I can't look at what he writes without seeing a foundation of assumed anti-semitism, like he's part of a society that takes it as a given. I also see his comments as a commentary on the monotheism that he inherited, which comes from the Jewish scriptures and ideas in both Hebrew and Christian scriptures. He seemed to want to point to a source, and through that pointed to what could be generalized for him at that time as Monotheism, which would be Judeo-Christianity. I hear many people making these remarks, even in group, that Monotheism is where things went wrong, and if they want to point to a source (and not Zoroastrianism, which may be the ultimate source) they could then follow the line of thinking and say "something was wrong with the Jewish line of thought" or "the Jews". We all need to be able to criticize the religion and society that we come out of, or that undergirds our society and culture. Problematic is when we then pick out a group and say "and they made this happen", I guess.

I think he was anti-semitic in his writings, and I also agree that one can't completely throw it out because he's also trying to comment on the religion he was brought up with. There is this aspect of "cleansing it out" which is a bit horrifying, thinking of what came later (and before in pogroms, etc).

And the commentary in one of the parts seems forced-- it says after a comment on "the Jews" that it shows how Nietzche placed the Jews as superior to "his Germans"-- I really think that was a stretch.

Man, is his stuff readable, though. It's a breath of fresh air after reading the other authors. I do like that he's trying to challenge his age's (and ours) fundamental assumptions about life-- that it's not so cut and dried as "peace and love" vs "war and aggression". Very interesting.
A former member
Post #: 55
Nietzsche is performing a moral genealogy and is tracing how Chrisitian morality and how moralities develop over time. He does charge Jews as being responsible for what he calls the transvaluation of values.

In understanding what he means, putting aside his acerbic remarks, we have to understand that he had a deep love for the Ancient Greeks who had a very different ethical system than our Judeo-Christian one.

He espouses a virtue ethics rather than a deontological ethics which are systems we have talked about before in previous meetings and which I am sure Scott will elaborate on more in the discussion in the context of Nietzsche.

It is because of his strong approval of ethical systems that are 'natural' in the sense of systems which are not God given or imposed on humanity from the outside that he holds Christian based morality in disdain. It with this idea in mind that our reading should be carried out.
Alex R.
user 13714540
Baltimore, MD
Post #: 10
Re: Nicks' 5/16 reply-- good point re: his love of Greek thought vs Judeo Xian. I would agree on that- and it's still a good challenge today. Maybe if he'd known more, he would have linked back even to the Zoroastrians and their original duality and sin thinking-- which predated Jewish monotheism and continued to influence both Jewish and Christian thought into the first couple centuries A.D.
A former member
Post #: 57
I think we have to remember that Nietzsche was very well educated. A full fledged professor in his early twenties and was very well versed in classics and philology. And he did write Thus Spake Zarathustra and so we cannot say clearly that he was handicapped in his knowledge of middle eastern religions, especially Zoroastrianism.

He is concerned with problems of nihilism and sees a direct connection of this phenomenon with Christianity and by default with Judaism. Zoroastrianism does have a dualism and separation of things into moral categories. However, he charges Judaism and Christianity with running with this separation and developing the moral categories into the full blown morality that we see today (which he sees as sick).

Again these ideas cannot be proven. It is simply what he thinks.

To answer Scott's question, I often times find it difficult to argue that the natural end of Nietzsche's philosophy is fascism and Nazism. I think his ideas are easily adopted by those who espouse those ideas in the first place.

One of things that I like to note is that Nietzsche never wrote his pamphlets and books that advocated revolution and a new political order in the way that Marx did. In many ways, I charge Marx more than Nietzsche for the much of the bloodbath of the 20th century that came about because of the development of his ideas. The reason being is that Marx openly advocated revolution and he knew it was going to be bloody. I do not think such a thing can be explicitly said of Nietzsche.

1) Nietzsche glorified the Superman

Nietzsche did glorify which some translate as the 'overman'. The idea that I glean from this concept which is often missed is that the overman 'overcomes' himself first. Being an 'overman' is not an excuse for Machiavellian barbarism. If one want to impart values to others, then one must first discipline oneself.

2) The dominance of the strong over the weak

He believes that we are not all equal. Some of us are better suited to imparting our wills and transforming culture than others. Eg. Many of our leaders today are short-sighted, weak, with no vision for the future. In this light is it wrong to say that such a person is equal to another who has the opposite of these characteristics?

3) The rejection of democracy

Yes. He rejected democracy but for specific reasons that were touched on briefly in the discussion. He was not fundamentally a political philosopher.

4) The natural joy we take in torture

This has to be taken in context. He is asking us to be honest with ourselves. History does show that the human race has a penchant for cruelty. It is some what instinctual in his view. True Chrisitianity with its resentiment has made man more tame and spiritual. Nevertheless the penchant for cruelty is there.

The question that he raises is whether we can take such natural instincts (if we agree that they are natural) and use them in a life affirming way. Rather than deny that it exists, can it be used positively? Can we use biological instincts for a greater good?

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