Nietzsche through the lens of Nazism and Marxism

Mazzino Montinari
Reading Nietzsche
West Berlin, 1982

Mazzino Montinari (4 April 1928 – 24 November 1986) was an Italian scholar of Germanistics. A native of Lucca, he became regarded as one of the most distinguished researchers on Friedrich Nietzsche, and harshly criticized the edition of The Will to Power, which he regarded as a forgery, in his book The Will to Power Does Not Exist.


After the end of fascism in Italy, Montinari became an active member of the Italian Communist Party, with which he was occupied with the translation of German writings. During 1953, when he visited East Germany for research, he witnessed the Uprising of 1953. Later, after the suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he drifted away from orthodox Marxism and his career in party organizations. He did however keep his membership in the Italian Communist Party and upheld the ideals of socialism.

At the end of the 1950s, with Giorgio Colli, who was his teacher in the 1940s, Montinari began to prepare an Italian translation of Nietzsche’s works. After reviewing the contemporary collection of Nietzsche’s works and the manuscripts in Weimar, Colli and Montinari decided to begin a new, critical edition. This edition became the scholarly standard, and was published in Italian by Adelphi in Milan, in French by Éditions Gallimard in Paris, in German by Walter de Gruyter and in Dutch by Sun (translated by Michel van Nieuwstadt). Of particular help for this project was Montinari’s ability to decipher Nietzsche’s nearly unreadable handwriting, which before had only been transcribed by Peter Gast (born Heinrich Köselitz).

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In 1972, Montinari and others founded the international journal Nietzsche-Studien, to which Montinari would remain a significant contributor until his death. Through his translations and commentary on Nietzsche, Montinari demonstrated a method of interpretation based on philological research that would forgo hasty speculations. He saw value in placing Nietzsche in the context of his time, and to this end, Colli and he began a critical collection of Nietzsche’s correspondence. Montinari died in Florence in 1986.

I’m posting this here in anticipation of the 1,000+ page book by Domenico Losurdo, Nietzsche: The Aristocratic Rebel, translated by Peter Thomas. From the reviews that’ve been written of the book by Thomas and Jan Rehmann, it appears to be an epic screed. Last year I wrote up a bit on Malcolm Bull’s The Anti-Nietzsche. Sunit Singh also wrote up a good article on “Nietzsche’s Untimeliness,” from a Marxist perspective.


Nietzsche between
Alfred Bäumler and
Georg Lukács

Nietzsche and National Socialist ideology: Alfred Bäumler’s interpretation

1. A national socialist “ideology” in the current sense of the word could, perhaps, be reconstructed. But it would be impossible, on the contrary, to speak of a genuine national socialist assimilation of Nietzsche’s ideas. As recent research has determined, Nietzsche was as good as alien to the founders of national socialism. Alfred Rosenberg, who laid claim to him as a forerunner to “the movement” in Mythos des 20. Jahrhunderts, placed Nietzsche in the dubious company of Paul de Lagarde (whom Nietzsche despised) and Houston Stewart Chamberlain (who, from his Wagnerian and racist standpoint, rejected Nietzsche). Hitler himself had no relation to Nietzsche; it is questionable whether he had read him at all. The entire ideology of race was profoundly alien to Nietzsche. It would be carrying coals to Newcastle if I were to cite the countless passages in which Nietzsche spoke out against the racial theories of the true forerunners of national socialism in general and anti-Semitism in particular. He even had occasion to correspond with someone who later was a national socialist representative, Theodor Fritsch; his two letters to the latter are a complete mockery of the muddled racial theories of the eighties in the previous century, with their — as Nietzsche said — dubious concepts of “Aryanism” and “Germanism.” Shortly after his correspondence with Nietzsche, Theodor Fritsch reviewed Beyond Good and Evil in 1887 and found in it (with good reason!) a “glorification of the Jews” and a “harsh condemnation of anti-Semitism.” He disposed of Nietzsche as a “philosopher-fisherman of the shallows” who had abandoned “any and all understanding for national essence” and who cultivated “old wives’ philosophical twaddle in Beyond Good and Evil.” According to Fritsch, Nietzsche’s pronouncements concerning the Jews were the “flat twaddle, too forced, pretending to be intellectual, of a Judaized type, self-taught in some apartment”; luckily, he believed, “Nietzsche’s books will be read by scarcely more than two dozen men.”1 This was Nietzsche’s actual relationship to anti-Semitism and Germanism as long as he lived. And yet still today, among the wider public, Nietzsche is considered an “intellectual pathfinder of national socialism.”

2. We owe Hans Langreder credit for having carefully examined “the confrontation with Nietzsche in the Third Reich” using the methods of historical-empirical research in his dissertation at Kiel from 1970. In this way he was able to determine that there was no consensus in the Third Reich in the evaluation of Nietzsche. He spoke of a “positive” (in the sense of national socialist ideology) and a “negative” image of Nietzsche in the Third Reich. Among national socialist ideologues, there were several who endeavored to win him for Hitlerism; others who on the contrary opposed the unsettling, cosmopolitan, decadent, individualistic Nietzsche; and as a result, still others who sought to mediate between the two positions. The so-called positive image of Nietzsche officially won the upper hand and unfortunately still holds it today. Langreder rightfully named the “conservative revolutionary” Alfred Bäumler as the key figure in Nietzsche’s appropriation into the Third Reich. “At the inception and at the mid-point of the development of a positive Nietzsche image in the national socialist period stands […] Alfred Bäumler”: thus Langreder in his dissertation. After the “seizure of power,” Bäumler was called to the newly founded academic chair for political pedagogy at the University of Berlin; soon afterward he became head of the science department in the governmental office of the “führer’s deputy for oversight of the general spiritual and philosophical schooling and education of the NSDAP,” hence in the so-called Rosenberg bureau [Amt Rosenberg].2

3. At the beginning of the thirties, Bäumler presented himself as the editor and interpreter of Nietzsche’s works. The latter occurred first by publishing, with Reclam Publishers, two arrangements of texts, chiefly from Nietzsche’s so-called magnum opus, The Will to Power, in fact with the title, Nietzsches Philosophie in Selbstzeugnissen. Erster Teil. Das System; Zweiter Teil, Die Krisis Europas. Immediately thereafter, still in the year 1931, appeared Bäumler’s own interpretation, which corresponded exactly to the twofold division of the Reclam edition: Nietzsche der Philosoph und Politiker. That was a period of frequent Nietzsche discussions. One reason for this was the release into the public domain [Freiwerdung] of his works (thirty years after the death of the author, as per the law at that time, and Nietzsche died August 25, I900). “When the works of a genius become the free property of his people and of the entire world of ideas, thirty years after his death,” remarked Hans Prinzhorn in the Deutsche Rundschau (1932), “then the brains and hands of those who live in this world of ideas understandably stir. How many opportunities offer themselves there: knowledge, abilities, opportunities to mediate — but also opportunities to maintain the craving for admiration and private spitefulness, at the same time to make a profit from this opportunity and to strengthen hidden cultural-political trends.” As a matter of fact, the argument over Nietzsche experienced a very powerful reanimation. Erich Podach published the Jena medical reports from the first years of Nietzsche’s illness: the sensation with the public was great; countless discussions began; and Nietzsche’s elderly sister, with her accomplice, sought once again to take active measures toward the imaginary rescue of her brother’s moral honor. After a twenty-year silence, one of the best Nietzsche experts and critics, Josef Hofmiller, took pen in hand once more to express his uneasiness with Nietzsche; he condemned the philosopher and wished only, in polemic with Bäumler, to validate the moral thinker and writer. Nietzsche’s private life became the object of a demythologization of the alleged “saint,” as the Nietzsche Archive in Weimar had presented him; I need only recall Hellmut Walther Brann’s book Nietzsche und die Frauen. Nonetheless, anyone who could have interpreted the genuine signs of those times would have come to the conclusion that a new corner had been turned in the diverse history of Nietzsche’s reception in Germany. Even if the significant and in many respects still valid philosophical research of Karl Jaspers and Karl Löwith (who wrote his important review and dispatch of Klages’ book in 1927) was conceived in those very years-on account of which Alfred Bäumler did not need to take Nietzsche “seriously” as a philosopher — it was not the sensationalist discussion of Nietzsche’s illness and private life that bore the signature of those fateful years but rather Nietzsche’s suitability for the “demands of the day,” for those not really well hidden “cultural-political trends” that grew from the seething soil of the dying Weimar Republic. And nothing Signified this so much at that time as the newly created Nietzsche interpretation of Alfred Bäumler.

4. He was completely conscious of his deed. As an answer to the attack of the generally conservative-minded Josef Hofmiller, Bäumler wrote:

It belongs to the destiny of Nietzsche’s effect on the German spirit that the gigantic work of his unpublished writings has not, to the present day, exerted its effect. (His sole and best readers to this point have still been Klages and Spengler.) For the vast majority, Nietzsche has remained the poet of Zarathustra; but he has worked his effect on subtler minds through, above all, two of his masks: through “Dionysus” (Birth of Tragedy) and the “free spirit” (the aphoristic books). This free spirit became master of a stylistic genre still scarcely known in Germany: the genre of moralistic, psychological essays. As the virtuoso of an intellectually rich and tight style of thought, Nietzsche won his generation, who, after his death, entered into the German literary public life. He worked his effect as a poet and writer at that time; he is honored still today as a poet and writer. A special appreciation for the middle, most personal works follows directly from this. […] We ascertain today that this appreciation was tied to an underestimation of the works of the later Nietzsche and of his unpublished works.

We for our part would ascertain that Nietzsche’s extreme revision as a Germanic thinker, his “recasting as Nordic” — as one could have called it a few years later — was something quite new for the intellectual public at the beginning of the thirties; writers and literati (as Bäumler scornfully remarked) found themselves confronted with an image of Nietzsche previously unknown to them. Of course, the development of this image, too, lay with Bäumler several years earlier; it began just as it had earlier for Warner, when he wrote his work on Bachofen and Nietzsche. I recall the pages by Thomas Mann in his Pariser Rechenschaft of 1927, with the ponderable words directed at Bäumler: “Nietzsche’s elevated and cultured Germanism knew, as did that of Goethe, other ways of expression than that of the great retreat into the mythic-historical-romantic womb.” I further recall still more explicit advice about the politics of the day:

the scholar’s fiction that the intellectual-historical moment belongs to a purely romantic reaction against idealism and rationalism, against the receding decades of the Enlightenment, as if “nationality” stood against “humanity” once more again today with perfect revolutionary right as the new, the youthful, the timely: this scholar’s fiction must be recognized for what it is, namely, a fiction filled with the trend of the day, which is neither the spirit of Heidelberg nor that of Munich. Whatever wishes to become genuinely new connects itself not to Bachofen and his grave symbolism but instead to the heroic, most awe-inspiring event and theater of German intellectual history, to the self-overcoming of romanticism in and through Nietzsche; and nothing is more certain than that in the humanity of tomorrow, which must be not only beyond democracy but also beyond fascism, elements of a new idealism will grow strong enough to hold the ingredients of romantic nationalism in the scales.

Unfortunately the “humanity of tomorrow” prophesied by Thomas Mann had to wait for the time being: in the meantime, what was “timely” in Germany turned into the philistines’ standoff against spirit and humanism.

5. Bäumler’s Nietzsche interpretation is based on two premises. The first is that Nietzsche’s genuine philosophy is concealed in his unpublished writings (as Bäumler knew them at the time). The second is that if one wishes to evaluate Nietzsche’s works, “one must take over for oneself the logical arrangements for which he had no time.” Bäumler’s real desire was, of course, to prepare Nietzsche’s published and unpublished writings as the foundation for a particular “Germanic” political philosophy written for him. Two questions that must be answered arise from this. First, did Bäumler correctly grasp the significance of Nietzsche’s unpublished writings? Second, what becomes of Nietzsche on the basis of the “logical arrangements” of his ideas that Bäumler has taken over for himself? Above and beyond all else to be investigated, however, is whether Bäumler’s politicizing of Nietzsche’s thinking, as it was carried out, was justified.

6. Bäumler and Nietzsche’s unpublished writings: Bäumler took over the compilation, which has made history under the name of Will to Power, completely uncritically (in comparison to Jaspers, for example, but also Heidegger). He did this as well after World War II as editor of the widely known Kroner edition of Nietzsche’s works. It is interesting, though depressing, to compare Bäumler’s afterwords written before and after World War II. For example, after the German collapse he deleted the following sentences: “The young Nietzsche distinguished between a romantic, ‘decorative’ concept of culture and a Greek-German concept of culture as one of a higher nature. His final systematic philosophical work turns the Greek-German concept of education into intellectual reality.” Yet precisely these sentences capture the “complete” Bäumler. In them the main features of his Nietzsche interpretation are recollected; the antihistorical equation of Greek and German (rejected by Nietzsche after the break with Wagner) is laid down as the foundation of Nietzsche’s alleged “system” in the Will to Power. Of course, after 1945 this was not up to date. Another passage from the afterword of 1930 may not go unmentioned: “In the current form of the Will to Power, we can easily recognize one grand train of thought, and we can also distinguish between completely worked out smaller sections, but we must never forget that we do not have before us a finished book by Nietzsche. Even if many further improvements on this work are produced by a later, critical edition of the collected works, it still would not achieve what Nietzsche had planned and what he himself would have been in a position to provide.” Here Bäumler rightfully indicates the objective limits that doom every such reconstruction to failure, but he himself, by speaking of a “work,” remains imprisoned in the fantasy that there was, hidden in the papers left behind, a mere torso of a work by Nietzsche under the title Will to Power.

Ernst Horneffer has already shown that this work does not exist; Karl Schlechta did it once again fifty years later. We notice, nonetheless, the one time as with the other, a remarkable resistance to the matter that it really concerned. In the polemics of both times, two fundamentally different questions were being confused: on the one side, that concerning the significance of Nietzsche’s unpublished writings for his philosophy; on the other side, that concerning the editions of those unpublished writings. Alternatively: on the one side, the will to power as philosophical doctrine; on the other side, the Will to Power as a work, as a “book.” It is of course possible to hold fast to the central significance of the will to power in Nietzsche’s thinking and simultaneously maintain that Nietzsche — as in fact the manuscripts prove — never wrote a work under this name (nor did he want to). Unfortunately, in 1907 Ernst Horneffer and his brother August, like Schlechta in 1956, were also not without guilt in this confusion . The Horneffer brothers (Nietzsche Archive editors of the first Will to Power in 1901, incidentally) inferred from their philological determination of the systematic work’s nonexistence Nietzsche’s inability to write such a one and the fragmentary character and indeed short-winded nature of his thinking itself. For them, Nietzsche was not a systematic thinker and therefore not a philosopher in the genuine sense, since he was unable- to write a systematic work. For Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche and her literary followers, in contrast, Nietzsche was a philosopher precisely because he had left behind a systematic work, even if unfinished. Yet in the philistine equation “philosopher = system = a work,” their two standpoints met each other most happily; a typical querelle allemande [German argument] arose by reason of an even more common niaiserie allemande [German foolishness]. Fifty yean later, another former Nietzsche Archive editor, Karl Schlechta, adduced all the proof one would ever want that the work did not exist.3 Schlechta, however, wanted to prove something further, namely, that Nietzsche’s unpublished writings are uninteresting (of course, with the qualification, so far as he knew them). His opponents Löwith, Wolfram von den Steinen, Pannwitz, and others-protested against this devaluation of the unpublished writings but once again confused the two questions: on the one side, the edition of the unpublished works (and here Schlechta was undoubtedly correct; there was no Will to Power); on the other side, the philosophical significance of the same unpublished writings (and here not a little could be directed against Schlechta).4 Schlechta’s service — having made the publication of the Nachlaß in chronological order his principal editorial goal, and having supported himself with irrefutable arguments —remains intact, even if he did not fulfill this goal with his edition. We must not overlook this in the polemical fervor concerning the philosophical significance of the unpublished writings.

Bäumler’s publisher did not wish to abandon the “beautiful” title Will to Power. And in 1964 Bäumler once again edited Nietzsche’s “magnum opus.” Of course, he did replace the previously quoted passage from the afterword as follows: “The Will to Power that Gast left behind to us is a historical document that will keep its significance once all the handwriting has been deciphered and published. Someone who has lived as long in Nietzsche’s proximity and participated as much as has Peter Gast has handed down to us something that will remain indispensable for the understanding and reconstruction of the Will to Power.” The Bäumler of 1930 held fast to the compilation just as did the one of 1964, even with his qualification that Nietzsche did not carry out this “philosophical magnum opus”; Gast, however — Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s philosophically insignificant, will-less tool — became the indispensable mediator for the “reconstruction” of this magnum opus in 1964. We find a copy of Bäumler’s book, with a dedication to Nietzsche’s sister, in Weimar even today, but what she thought of the indispensable mediator of the Will to Power can be discovered, for instance, from a letter in which she expresses herself on the question of a future critical edition of Nietzsche’s collected works. On September 16, 1915, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche wrote to her counsel, Karl Theodor Koetschau:

Now it would be necessary, though, too, that the editorial activity begin anew from the beginning. […] You can get some idea of how much there is to do in view of the manuscript only if you come here yourself and I can layout for you the materials and future plans. Peter Gast was simply not a scholar, and even if he had the personal legacy, he still lacked philological scholarship. which he replaced with a sort of contrived willpower. But the most diverse, labor· intensive proofreading is unconditionally required, as long as I live, since I have the entire legacy of the collected edition and, unfortunately, also of the mistakes which have been made. [Frau Förster used the German word Tradition twice, which generally means simply “tradition,” but I believe she meant that, although Gast had a Nietzsche legacy by virtue of having known the philosopher personally, she had the legal guardianship of the literary estate as her undeniable Nietzsche legacy; note that she did not assert her family bond as the legacy.]

We should take note of this letter’s date; it was written scarcely five years after the appearance of the so-called critical edition of the Will to Power by Otto Weiss!

But Peter Gast himself conceded the scholarly untenability of his compilation, too. In his copy of Ernst Horneffer’s short written work Nietzsches letztes Schaffen, which he used and is still preserved in Weimar, he commented on the remark therein, made with reference to Will to Power, that “Nietzsche’s manuscript must be edited abandoning any organization and arrangement, word-for-word, precisely as it is,” by writing in the margin, “If it had been made public in this fashion, then Horneffer would have declared the exact opposite as proper. The public did not request such an edition. The experts, for whom such an edition would be genuine ecstasy, are in too small a minority.” The unpublished fragments, above all those of the Will to Power, had in reality a sort of esoteric value for Bäumler; for him, Nietzsche expressed his real opinions in the unpublished writings for the first time. He felt bolstered in this perspective by the artificially produced system of the Will to Power; for him it was a mere torso of a work that contained the authentic Nietzsche.

This very optic is nevertheless a distinctly falsifying one. As Horneffer had postulated in 1907, publication of the literary estate would have demonstrated the complete brittleness of the construction Will to Power; it would not, for instance, have brought about “many improvements” (thus Bäumler in 1930) but instead would have proved the negative significance of the “historical document” that Peter Gast allegedly left behind (thus Bäumler in 1964).

And this would have made the experts ecstatic — but probably not the crude falsifier à la Bäumler — when seen in the following way.

Nietzsche’s manuscripts, read in their chronological order, result in an exact, nearly seamless presentation of his creation and his intentions. The unpublished works in their chronological form stand in an illuminating and complementary relation to the published (or ready-to-print) works. This is true for the Nachlaß of the eighties, too, from which the Will to Power was compiled. Two approaches to Nietzsche’s unpublished writings are possible. One understands the totality of the handwritten notes — apart from their employment in the works — as the more or less unified expression of Nietzsche’s thought in process. The other emphasizes Nietzsche’s literary intentions, meaning his plans for publication, insofar as we may detail them; consequently, it searches for the preliminary material to his works and concerns itself with the reconstruction of their compositional process.

What Nietzsche incorporated in his works, what was simply rejected or postponed for later use, what was ultimately unused and why — all this is the subject the second approach seeks to investigate. Each approach must complement the other in a complete interpretation of Nietzsche’s thinking. Nevertheless, the second one is the distinctive modus operandi of the critical edition, whose purpose it is to mirror, in a “objective” manner, the subtle differentiation among the notes in their relations to the published works or extant finished works. This occurs through publication of the rejected or unused notes left as “unpublished fragments” and through evaluation, in the critical apparatus, of the preliminary material to the works.5

This constitutes the sole possible manner, presented as succinctly as possible, of occupying oneself in a critical way with the manuscripts of a multifarious and multivalent author such as Nietzsche. This would not have enticed Bäumler the systematic thinker, of course; he far more diligently prepared Nietzsche’s “main prose work”6 and made it into a best-seller, which his publisher did not want to strike from their program even after World War II.

And with that we arrive at what became of Nietzsche when the “logical arrangement” of his ideas was taken over by someone else: that is, at what Bäumler called “Nietzsche’s system.”

7. “Nietzsche’s System”: One of the best current Nietzsche interpreters, Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, placed the following sharp-witted fragment by the romantic Friedrich Schlegel as the motto of his introductory observations to Nietzsches Philosophie der Gegensätze [Nietzsche: His Philosophy of Contradictions]: “It is equally disastrous for the mind to have a system and to have none. Surely, then, it will have to decide to combine the two.”7 That is spoken as if from the spirit of Nietzsche, who in fact fought the romantics but who had more than a merely negative relation to them.

In the summer of 1888 Nietzsche sketched a sort of preface to the book that he was directly thereafter to drop from his plans, namely, to the Will to Power. This preface is particularly important because it informs us about Nietzsche’s “intentions,” much discussed by Bäumler, with all the clarity for which one might hope. According to the text of the current critical edition, it reads:

A book for thinking, nothing else; it belongs to those for whom thinking is a delight, nothing else —
……That it is written in German is untimely. to say the least; I wish I had written it in French so that it might not appear to be a confirmation of the aspirations of the German Reich.
……The Germans of today are no thinkers any longer: something else delights and impresses them.
……The will to power as a principle might be intelligible to them.
……It is precisely among the Germans today that people think less than anywhere else. But who knows? In two generations one will no longer require the sacrifice involved in any nationalistic squandering of power and in becoming stupid.
……(Formerly I wished I had not written my Zarathustra in German.)
……I mistrust all systems and systematizers and move out of their path: perhaps one will still discover the system to this book, which I have eluded
……The will to a system: expressed morally, a more refined corruption with philosophers, an illness of character; expressed unmorally, his will to appear stupider than he is. Stupider, that means stronger, simpler, more dominating, less cultured, more commanding, more tyrannical.8 [End of Kaufmann’s translation; the remainder is my translation]

Müller-Lauter, too, observes the meaninglessness of Nietzsche’s just-quoted sketch in his subsequent discussion by commenting on the sentence “The will to power as a principle might be intelligible to them” as follows: “For the unthinking Germans, talk of the will to power, insofar as power is discussed, could seem to be ‘a confirmation of the aspirations of the German Reich.’ Besides, they are accustomed to using the term ‘will’ in the sense of Schopenhauer and his successors. Therefore, what Nietzsche says of the will to power must be hard for them to understand. Is the will to power, then, precisely not a ‘principle’ in the sense of traditional metaphysics?”9 Not a trace of the intellectual tension that Schlegel’s phrase (“equally disastrous […] to have a system and to have none”) betrays, and that we detect very easily in Nietzsche’s (“perhaps one will still discover the system to this book, which I have eluded”), can be found in Bäumler’s account of “Nietzsche’s system.” What Bäumler required was a Nietzsche who “appears stupider than he is,” meaning, “stronger, simpler, more dominating, less cultured, more commanding, more tyrannical.” This Nietzsche cannot be found, especially in the unpublished notes — always assuming that we have decided to reconstruct not a definite Nietzsche but rather the entire Nietzsche as he was, as he opened himself up in his intimate notes but also in his books, his letters. In contrast, Bäumler wanted a fundamentally unproblematic Nietzsche, a Nietzsche in halves, not the Nietzsche who wrote of “a profound aversion to resting once and for all time in any one general observation on the world. Magic of the opposing mode of thought: to never allow the appeal of an enigmatic character to be lost.”10

Bäumler designs his image of Nietzsche with the formulation of a “heroic realism.” The matter was not such that Bäumler could have gained no insight whatsoever into Nietzsche’s world of ideas, but there are only a few aspects that he brings up with relish. Nietzsche becomes the radical, pathetic atheist; he has, in contrast to philosophers such as Plato, “courage in the face of reality”; he, like Heraclitus, is a philosopher of Becoming and war, of the will to power. Bäumler is a well-read Nietzschean; thus, for instance, he is able to present the essential viewpoints of Nietzsche’s epistemology with precision. The contemporary problematics of natural science, from which Nietzsche drew his insights concerning knowledge of the world, are of course completely lost to him in this regard. Here the historical sense that he lauds in Nietzsche appears to have gone astray. To mention only one name, it is as if Ernst Mach had never been Friedrich Nietzsche’s contemporary at all, as if he had never written Analysis of Sensation, and as if Nietzsche had never read this book. And yet the natural scientist and philosopher Mach — well-known to Nietzsche — was the representative of a radical critique of causalism, of the mechanistic conception of physics in general at this time. Examples such as this could be presented at will. For Bäumler, Nietzsche the “good European” does not live in the Europe of the nineteenth century. He has precious little to do with great minds such as Stendhal, Baudelaire, Dostoyevsky, or Tolstoy or with other authors, poets, and philosophers such as Mérimé and Taine, the Goncourts and Renan, Sainte-Beuve and Flaubert, Guyau and Paul Rée, Bourget and Turgenev. The thoughtful and thought-provoking pronouncement that Nietzsche voiced in Ecce Homo — “Apart from my being a decadent, I am also the opposite”11 — appears to him, once Bäumler has systematized Nietzsche, to have never been said.

Bäumler speaks of furthering one of Nietzsche’s confrontations against consciousness [Bewußtsein], against spirit [Geist] — a confrontation that Nietzsche led both In theoretical and practical spheres — in favor of “life” “on the guiding path of the body.” What Bäumler wants to overlook is the painful tension that rules between the poles “spirit” and “life” in Nietzsche’s entire philosophy, as when Nietzsche’s Daybreak speaks of a passion for knowledge being the unconscious happiness of barbarism, or when his Zarathustra pronounces “spirit” and “life” as one inseparable unity-namely, in the statement “Spirit is life which cuts into itself.”’12 Nietzsche the spiritualized philosopher appears to have never existed for Bäumler. Also, the two-thousand-year-long moral vivisection that Nietzsche received as his own personal premise does not exist for Bäumler. And yet Nietzsche himself defined his philosophy in the late preface to Gay Science with these words: “A philosopher who has traversed many kinds of health, and keeps traversing them, has passed through an equal number of philosophies; he simply cannot keep from transposing his states every time into the most spiritual form and distance: this art of transfiguration is philosophy. We philosophers are not free to divide body from soul as people do; we are even less free to divide soul from spirit.”13

In the end Bäumler even had to allow the fundamental idea of Zarathustra to disappear from his systemization of Nietzsche: the doctrine of eternal recurrence of the same, the entire philosophy of Dionysus — and this even though Nietzsche occupied himself in his later notes with that fundamental idea, indeed, wanted to dedicate the fourth and last book of the Will to Power to it. In his final plan dated “Sils-Maria, on the last Sunday in the month of August, 1888,” meaning directly before the abandonment of the publication of a work under the title Will to Power,14] that fourth book bore the title “The Great Noon”; its third and final chapter was called “The Eternal Return.” Bäumler resisted the inclusion of this idea; he identified the system that he had constructed, with help from Nietzsche’s alleged magnum opus, the compiled Will to Power, with Nietzsche’s system and opined: “There is nothing in his philosophical system with which this eternalization of Becoming can be brought into connection — the idea of eternal recurrence exists in Will to Power as a solitary erratic block.”15 This might be correct, if we possessed what Bäumler called “Nietzsche’s system,” or if we even had a book written by Nietzsche from which the idea could be removed as an erratic block. However, we have neither the system nor the book. But since the entire Nietzsche interests us and not Nietzsche’s “system,” we are forced to question Bäumler’s interpretive skills. In this regard we will do well for ourselves to become acquainted with the weighty arguments of a far deeper interpreter — I mean Karl Löwith. Concerning Bäumler, Löwith wrote:

The will as power takes over the function of the eternal recurrence, and in place of the self-willing Dionysian world. […] This will made innocent is the dubious foundation of Bäumler’s entire interpretation of Nietzsche’s beheaded philosophy. […] Only in the ring of this eternal recurrence of the same can the existence of the agonal, “wrestling” man, too, “will itself” beyond the first liberation from the “Thou shalt.” Nietzsche’s formula for this willing of the eternal recurrence is no mere will to “destiny” but “amor fati,” whereas Bäumler can picture under the term “love” not love of eternity but only a bourgeois sentimentality.16

But once again we hear Bäumler’s involuntary confession about the breakdown of his own interpretation on “Zarathustra’s fundamental idea” (for so Nietzsche called the doctrine of eternal recurrence of the same in Ecce Homo): “Such a world [of eternal recurrence] can never be presented philosophically, and it is impossible, in this Dionysian world of ‘eternal self-creating, eternal self-destroying, this world secret of doubled lust: to recognize the world as battle […] that world of conflict and tension which is ruled by the rigorous law of unity, of justice, which results in the meanwhile out of this tension.”17 All the worse for that world which Bäumler has prepared, we may well say!

Yet Nietzsche is readied to the condition where he can be used by Bäumler only under the presuppositions treated to this point. His “beheaded philosophy” can now easily be turned into a pseudo-revolutionary gesture, into — as Bäumler expressed it — “a Siegfried-like attack on the urbanity of the West.” Nietzsche has been transformed into “horned Siegfried”; every irony, every ambiguity, every sort of Geist or esprit has been driven from him. Nietzsche has become a warrior; he has even become a Teuton.

8. Nietzsche, Teuton and Political Thinker: With this we come to the most unpleasant part of our observations, for once Bäumler gave a one-sided view of Nietzsche’s philosophy, he then presented him “as a political thinker,” as an utter Teuton, intelligible only against the background of the mistaken hodgepodge of Rosenberg’s Mythos der 20. Jahrhunderts. If there had been presentation of evidence here, however meager, where Bäumler troubled himself with Nietzsche, now “every trace of intellectual integrity” — to use Nietzsche’s words — has disappeared from his presentation. What remains Is his evil [übel], all too transparent political disposition.

Nietzsche’s Teutonism is presented by Bäumler as an apodictic certainty. Here are a few samples.18 “Nietzsche’s philosophical this-worldliness must be seen In conjunction with its positing of a heroic goal. Nietzsche’s Teutonism consists in this.” “Nothing was more despicable to Nietzsche’s Nordic, tense being than the Oriental notion of blissful peace. […] His doctrine of the will is the most perfect expression of his Teutonism.” “From the core thought of Nietzsche’s Greek-German metaphysics comes forth his great doctrine that there Is not one morality but only one morality for the masters and a morality of the slaves.” “What a genuinely Germanic sentiment speaks from Zarathustra’s defense of the people against the state. […] Nietzsche is not aware that he declares the secret of German history” (hence Nietzsche as an “unself-conscious Teuton”!). “The same aversion to the universality of the state that we notice in the Germans we find In the Greeks, who share a blood relation with the Germans.” Bäumler sets the Greeks against the Romans and would very much like Nietzsche to join him in it, since they [the Romans] appear in his eyes as the founders of that non-German creation, the “state.” Unfortunately none of it works without “a trustworthy reconstruction” — as Bäumler’s presentation in Nietzsche als Politiker calls it — of Nietzsche’s political thought. The reconstruction appears, then, with Nietzsche’s pensive pronouncements, as follows: “And even in my Zarathustra one will recognize a very serious ambition for a Roman style, for the aere perennius in style. […] To the Greeks I do not by any means owe similarly strong impressions; and — to come out tight with it — they cannot mean as much to us as the Romans. One does not learn from the Greeks — their manner is too foreign, and too fluid, to have an imperative, a ‘classical’ effect. Who could ever have learned to write from a Greek?”19

Bäumler commented on this passage from Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols with the following sentences: “The passage is completely misunderstood if one relates it simply to the Romans; it is solely the Romans as literary ideal that is meant, as masters of the noble form, of the perfect literary demeanor. Nietzsche […] learned something essential […] from them.” “The substance of his doctrine is non-Roman, in fact anti-Raman-this is expressed most strongly in his animosity to the state as an institution” (96). Bäumler completely forgets that Nietzsche experienced “form” and “substance” as the same thing, that for him the “form” was the “thing itself [Sache selbst].” Bäumler is not even embarrassed by the following, still more unambiguous passage from Antichrist, in which Nietzsche declares what the Romans were to him:

That which stood there aere perennius, the imperium Romanum, the most magnificent form of organization under difficult circumstances that has yet been achieved, in comparison with which all before and all afterward are mere botch, patchwork, and dilettantism — these holy anarchists made it a matter of “piety” for themselves to destroy “the world,” that is, the imperium Romanum, until not one stone remained on the other, until even Teutons and other louts could become masters over it. […] Christianity was the vampire of the imperium Romanum: overnight it undid the tremendous deed of the Romans — who had won the ground for a great culture that would have time. Is it not understood yet? The imperium Romanum […] this most admirable work of art in the grand style, was a beginning; its construction was designed to prove itself through thousands of years: until today nobody has built like this again, nobody has even dreamed of building in such proportions sub specie aeterni.20

Bäumler’s commentary to this runs thus: “Compared to the Jews and Christians, the Greeks and Romans move onto the same level. Against a stronger opponent, old rivals must also tolerate each other” (113). Thus a sort of people’s front, or better put, the people’s front against Christianity! And when Nietzsche the “unself-conscious Teuton” speaks of “Teutons and other louts,” or of “Teutons and other lead boots,” his attack on Christianity remains yet a Siegfried-like attack “Nordic paganism Is the vast, dark underground from which the bold warrior against Christian Europe emerges forth” (103). That is, of course, spoken mythically and darkly. The “thing itself” is quite another matter for him.

“Psychology is, for Nietzsche, always merely a weapon,” says Bäumler at one point (111), because he cannot possibly fathom the full depths of his author’s psychological vision; Nietzsche could not possibly be a psychologist because otherwise his educators would have to be sought somewhere entirely different from the forests of Germania, in France, for instance. But “he who knows Nietzsche” — after the fashion of Bäumler — must accept that he is an “admirer of French culture” (112). Psychology and French culture — we prefer once again to fall back on Nietzsche (who speaks of himself in this passage from Ecce Homo):

The Germans […] shall never enjoy the honor that the first honest spirit in the history of the spirit […] should be counted one with the German spirit. The “German Geist” is for me bad air: I breathe with difficulty near the now instinctive uncleanliness in psychologicis which every word, every facial expression, of a German betrays. They have never gone through a seventeenth century of hard self-examination, like the French — à la Rochefoucauld and a Descartes are a hundred times superior in honesty to the foremost Germans — to this day they have not had a psychologist. But psychology is almost the measure of the cleanliness or uncleanliness of a race. […] And when I occasionally praise Stendhal as a deep psychologist, I have encountered professors at German universities who asked me to spell his name.21 [Kaufmann translation]

One must not speak of Nietzsche’s “partiality to the Renaissance,” in Bäumler’s estimation, because otherwise one would also have to accept that Nietzsche was partial toward the “Mediterranean priesthood” and against the “advances of the Reformation.” What is more, the aristocracy “in the upper and central Italian city-states […] with extreme likelihood originated from Germanic blood” (97). I think that any commentary would only spoil this!

And when Nietzsche’s patience came to an end with such sentences as “The Renaissance and Reformation constitute a whole only when taken together” (so much so In fact that he referred to this sentence by the “aesthetically Schwabian Vischer” as an “idiotic judgment in historicis”), Bäumler found that Nietzsche wanted not merely to “return to the Reformation” but instead to “go further than it” (112). In the fifth book of Gay Science, Nietzsche developed his position toward Luther and the Reformation with all the clarity for which we could hope, namely in the aphorism “The peasant rebellion of the spirit.”22 There we discover a characterization of the “southern freedom and enlightenment of the spirit” on which the edifice of the Church rests as well as on a “southern suspicion of nature, man, and spirit.” “It seems the Germans do not understand the nature of a church.” In regard to this sentence, intentionally negative to Germans, Bäumler finds hidden praise (109). It’s too bad that Nietzsche moderated the tone of the final version of his aphorism! Otherwise Bäumler could have hardly been able to speak of any praise of the north and Teutonism. We read in the preliminary material to this aphorism: “But in the north one believes with Rousseau, ‘man is good’.” Moreover, “Luther’s Reformation was from its inception onward Nordic numbskullery.”23

Enough! Enough! A little fresh air! — we would like to call out thus, as with Nietzsche at another occasion. Here I will break off my confrontation with Nietzsche’s putative Teutonism; 1 almost want to apologize for having taken up time with such uninspiring polemics concerning rightfully expired concepts such as Romanism and Teutonism. For these concepts come from a more than dubious grasp of history and have nothing to do with integrity in research — which begins where ideology, meaning false consciousness, ends. Today they sound merely ridiculous and philistine. We must never forget in the meantime that Nietzsche’s “forced conformity” [Gleichschaltung] to national socialist ideology was made possible i n the first instance by preparatory work, most notably by Bäumler’s propaganda book.


Marxism and Nietzsche: Georg Lukács’ interpretation

Whoever seeks to explain the significance of renewed interest in Nietzsche’s philosophy will quickly discover two sorts of explanation for it. One sort: the received image of Nietzsche no longer suffices for us today, either as the crude simplification of his theory of will to power into Realpolitik, as a memorial to brownshirts, or — in the better case — as an aesthetically sensitizing enthusiasm for his “style” or his philosophy of art. With regard to the other sort, we want moreover to move beyond even those grand philosophical interpretations originating in the thirties of our century, although far removed from Nazi pseudo-philosophy (I refer to the interpretations by Karl Jaspers and Karl Löwith, in many respects still relevant today). And we also want to move beyond them to a new, critical mode of contemplating Nietzsche and of being fair to him.

Within the framework of this critical confrontation with the received image of Nietzsche, the interpretation by Georg Lukács occupies an especially important position for the following reasons. First, Lukács was one of the most significant Marxist theoreticians of our time, and as a philosophy and worldview, Marxism plays a decisive role in our times across the entire world. Second, Georg Lukács’ interpretation of Nietzsche has exercised a very powerful influence on Marxist and non-Marxist scholars. This is so not least of all because his sharp-witted applications of the Marxist method to the most diverse areas of cultural history, philosophy, and aesthetics have long been the orthodox ones and continue to have such an influence today — even where his Marxism, as a consequence of his views about the events of 1956, is no longer undisputed, hence, in the socialist lands (wherein Hungary itself has constituted an exception for several years).

The difficulties confronting the application of the Marxist method to phenomena of the so-called superstructure are well known. A principled confrontation with the type of historical materialist approach that Lukács applies to art, literature, and philosophy, as well as the manner in which he does so, does not fall within the framework of my discussions. But perhaps they will be able to afford a tangible concrete contribution to this general issue.

2. We find occasional references to Nietzsche in all the writings of Lukács, including the “pre-Marxist” essays of the collection Soul and Form. These references bear testimony to a deep-running knowledge of and unceasing confrontation with Nietzsche that would warrant the efforts of a complete reconstruction. The works in which Lukács expressly gave his Nietzsche Interpretation, however, are the following:

  1. the essay from 1934 titled “Nietzsche as Predecessor of the Fascist Aesthetic,” later reprinted In the collection Essays on the History of Aesthetics;
  2. an essay from the war years, written in 1943, with the title “German Fascism and Nietzsche,” which five years later-I948 — was to start a series of “essays toward a new German ideology,” as the subtitle to the collected volume Schicksalswende declared; and finally,
  3. the comprehensive work The Destruction of Reason [Die Zerstörung der Vernunft] — Here Lukács delivers the “new German ideology” announced in the subtitle to Twist of Fate in the form of a monograph on — as per its subtitle — the “path of irrationalism from Schelling to Hitler.” (Incidentally, this subtitle recalls the work of the American historian Peter Viereck that appeared in 1941 under the title Metapolitics: From the Romantics to Hitler and that likewise provided an intellectual genealogy of Hitlerism wherein Nietzsche — in polemics against the Nazi pseudo-philosophers and historians — is nonetheless distanced quite decisively from the intellectual predecessors of national socialism.) The key chapter to The Destruction of Reason is doubtless the one about Nietzsche: “Nietzsche as the Founder of Imperialistic Irrationalism.”

The three cited depictions of Nietzsche are as many stages in one increasingly powerful and consequential speech for the prosecution of Nietzsche.

If Lukács attempted, especially in the first of his Nietzsche essays, to ascertain some measure of “difference” between Nietzsche and national socialist ideology, and even conceded misuse at the hands of Alfred Rosenberg and Alfred Bäumler, he later no longer saw any essential difference. Nietzsche’s thought became ceaselessly identified with fascist and imperialistic ideology because it had been on the path of a so-called indirect apologetics for capitalism, on the path to an ideological anticipation of fascism and imperialism. In fact, there are cases in which Lukács’ Nietzsche is more of a strict national socialist than is Alfred Bäumler’s Nietzsche. For instance, when, as has been shown, Bäumler sought to simply discard from Nietzsche’s philosophy what was to him the personally disagreeable idea of “eternal recurrence of the same” in favor of the far more personally appealing principle of will to power (more on this principle later!), Lukács hurried to point out the allegedly fascist characteristics of this idea.

Lukács delivered his final and most radical pronouncement against Nietzsche in The Destruction of Reason. Let us consider this pronouncement seriously. I devote the following reflections to him, although from the onset, they do not go beyond a discussion supported by the most concrete, critical, and philological data possible.

3. Our subject matter has truly far-reaching implications, because it concerns not only the general problem of the relationship between what Marxists call the “socioeconomic base” and what they call the “superstructure” but also, in connection with the same problem, the still more general question of the relationship between materialist conceptions and philosophy in general. This question, genuinely at the frontiers of Marxist philosophy, concerns itself, in fact, with the extent to which the historicity of all human thought postulated by historical materialism logically implies its own historical conditionality as well, hence the historicity of Marxism itself. Thus, Antonio Gramsci, the Italian theoretician of Marxism, wrote that historical materialism “developed as an expression of the inner contradictions that tear our society apart […], unable to abandon the ground of those contradictions”; it is itself provisional, because of the “historicity of every conception of the world and of life.” One could even maintain — I quote again from Gramsci — that “while the entire system of historical materialism can be invalidated in a united world, many idealistic worldviews, or at least several aspects of them, which in the realm of necessity are utopian, could become a reality.”24 We consider true some things from Marx and Engels, but not — so far as we know — from Lukács, what Engels once said of Hegel: “In human history, unending progress is the single true form of existence recognized by the Geist, only assuming an end, fantastically, to this development — in the presentation of the Hegelian philosophy.”25

A fundamental pillar of Lukács’ Nietzsche interpretation is what he calls the “indirect apologetic.” I quote from the conclusion to the chapter on Kierkegaard in The Destruction of Reason:

The indirect apologetic refers, in general, to entirely rejecting, negating reality (society in general) in such a way that the final result of this negation leads to an affirmation of capitalism, or at least to its benevolent toleration. In the realm of morality, the indirect apologetic defames, above all, social behavior, especially every tendency to want to change society. It achieves this goal through isolation of the individual and through erection of such a higher ethical ideal that, before its sublimity, the petty nullity of social norms would appear to fade away and distinctions between them blur. But should such an ethic work a real, wide, and deep effect, then it would have not only to erect such an ideal but also simultaneously (even with the help of ethically sublime arguments) to exclude compliance with it. Because realization of such an ideal could place the decadent bourgeois individual before just as personally challenging a task as was social behavior. The reality of the disconnective function of the indirect apologetic would become problematic in this way.26

In this way Lukács gained two sorts of results in relation to Nietzsche. On the one side, he refuted in advance any attempt to portray Nietzsche as a sharp-witted critic of bourgeois society and morality, as Thomas Mann, for instance, undertook in his 1947 essay “Nietzsche’s Philosophy in Light of Contemporary Events.” On the other side, Nietzsche, as soon as he abandons society and morality or considers society and morality in the light of several of his philosophy’s unique frontier notions — for instance, “eternal return of the same,” the “overman,” the “will to power,” “nihilism,” and so forth — must push forward the “indirect apologetic” of capitalism. That which informs the issues of Lukács’ interpretation is not what Nietzsche actually said or meant but rather what he must have said and meant within the framework of an ideological, ostensibly Marxist publication, which in itself allows no concrete verification, since everything has already been prescribed and predetermined in it The argumentation with which Lukács introduced his observations about Nietzsche, is, from this perspective, typical unto paradox, Nietzsche’s lifework being, so we are told, a continual polemic against Marxism — and that despite the fact that he never read a line of Marx or Engels, in fact never knew of the terms “Marxism” and “historical materialism” at all! This circumstance may, nonetheless, be explained away. “Against the class enemy,” Lukács thought, “all things appear permissible; here all objective morality ceases.”27 And literally: “What Engels said of lawyers is true in a higher degree for philosophy, ‘The mirroring of economic relations as legal principles […] proceeds without their becoming conscious for the ones who perform actions, which lawyers imagine to operate with a priori principles, though they are but economic reflexes’.”28

Lukács quotes from a letter of October 27, 1890, from Engels to Conrad Schmidt, in which, contrary to Lukács’ claim (“What Engels said of lawyers is true in a higher degree for philosophy”), Engels nevertheless does not tire of warning about pedantry “concerning all this primordial nonsense” — Engels means “seeking economic causes for ideological areas that hover still higher in the clouds [higher than jurisprudence],” such as “religion, philosophy, etc.”

In view of this statement, to speak of “economic reflexes” as Lukács does seems to me highly questionable. The elder Engels directed his polemics (as we may infer from letters to Joseph Bloch on December 21, 1890; to Franz Mehring on July 14, 1893; and to Heinz Starkenburg on January 25, 1894) against the simplifying enthusiasm of many “Marxists” who set off blustering right away, who degrade historical materialism by mechanical and dogmatic applications to — as he says — “empty phrases.” This is especially explicit in his letter to Joseph Bloch: “According to the materialist conception of history, production and reproduction of real life is the determining moment in history in the last instance. Neither Marx nor I have ever maintained more than this.”

4. According to Lukács, Nietzsche availed himself of two means to refine his unself-conscious, “indirect apologetic” for developing imperialism and fascism: the aphoristic, unsystematic form of writing and myth. Or put more properly: Nietzsche expressed his mythmaking in his preference for the aphorism, since in this way he makes everything into myth: history, society, natural science, and Indeed even his “agnosticism”; there is, in addition, his myths of “will to power,” “overman,” “death of God,” and so on.

Karl Löwith once remarked quite rightly about Ernst Bertram: “The historical insight of Hegel and Burckhardt that nothing distinguishes us so much from antiquity as precisely the lack of a truly mythical way of thinking, is ignored in Bertram’s presentation.”29 This insight of Hegel and Burckhardt was also shared by Nietzsche, so much so that it had to destroy his youthful belief in the possibility of a resurrection of Teutonic myth in the Wagnerian form and in the tenability of myths in general. This is the meaning of the second of the Untimely Meditations, that there is no longer any possibility for modern man to win back the limiting — and therefore life-promoting — horizon. The “historical illness” was portrayed there, though, by one who — as he says of himself — did not whatsoever renounce the “historical sense.” And whoever knows the preliminary material to Thus Spoke Zarathustra knows that the “ugliest man” in part four personifies this “historical sense”;30 this “ugliest man” is now the “murderer of God,” meaning that the historical sense has killed God, the myth of myths. After that, there is no longer a return to any sort of myth whatsoever! The happiness that myth afforded the men of antiquity is closely related to the “happiness without knowledge” of barbarism, but Nietzsche said in a previously cited aphorism from Daybreak. (number 429): “Knowledge has In us been transformed into a passion which shrinks at no sacrifice and at bottom fears nothing but its own extinction; we believe in all honesty that all mankind must believe itself more exalted and comforted under the compulsion and suffering of this passion than it did formerly, when envy of the coarser contentment that follows in the train of barbarism had not yet been overcome. […] Yes, we hate barbarism — we would all prefer the destruction of mankind to a regression of knowledge.” In his unpublished writings from 1875 until his mental collapse at the beginning of January 1889, Nietzsche himself wrote down accounts regarding what his Wagnerian and mythical period meant to him. We will take only three such pieces of evidence. 1883: “After my first phase smirks the face of Jesuitism: I mean, the conscious holding fast to an illusion and the compulsory application of the same as the basis of culture. […] Wagner was bagged by this very hazard. […] To the position of philosopher, I would raise the free spirit, who, without turning Jesuit, nonetheless penetrates the irrational constitution of existence.”31 1885: “One day — it was during the summer of 1876 — a disgust and insight suddenly came to me: I have mercilessly surpassed the beautiful objects of desire and dreams as I had loved them in my youth; mercilessly I continued on my way, a path of ‘knowledge at any cost’.”32 1888: “Around 1876 I was terrified to see all I had desired hitherto compromised, as I grasped which way Wagner was going now […]: what I valued most in Wagner was the bit of Antichrist that he represents with his art and style.”33

The emphasis certainly shifted in the course of these years from the attempt — without turning Jesuit — not only to penetrate the illogical character of existence but to affirm it as well. The experiment itself, though, remained supported by what Nietzsche called the “passion for knowledge” and contains nothing mythical or of mythmaking in itself. We find myth, of course — the Nietzsche myth — in many Nietzsche interpretations, from Klages, to Bertram, and up to Bäumler and even Lukács. What we scarcely ever find, by contrast, is an attempt to historically and critically approach the real Nietzsche living at a definite time.

5. We discover two ideas at the frontiers of Nietzsche’s philosophy that can awaken impressions of mythmaking: that of the “eternal return of the same” and that of the “overman.” And yet, if one were to refer less to the crude simplifications that these ideas have undergone in the heads of literati, fashion philosophers, and other “Nietzscheans” of the late prior century and rather give them the significance that Nietzsche gave them in the framework of his observations, then one would prefer myth less and knowledge more.

How did Nietzsche regard his idea of the eternal return of the same? He said it himself: as the ultimate conclusion of the mechanistic world view, hence in close association with the natural scientific notions of his time. (I am setting aside the question as to what actual philosophical meaning bents this idea: I want only to emphasize its origin — the historical origin, mind you, not the personal — of the experience at Sils-Maria in August of 1881.) That this is so is verified from a corner that we certainly cannot suspect as being sympathetic to myth, namely, from Engels. He wrote in a note to his Die Dialektik der Natur (which may be dated to the period between 1878 and 1883!): “Impossibility of conceiving the infinite. As soon as we say matter and motion are not created and are indestructible, we are saying that the world exists as infinite progress, i.e., in the form of bad infinity, and thereby we have conceived all of this process that is to be conceived. At the most, the question still arises whether this process is an eternal repetition — in a great cycle — or whether the cycles have upward and downward portions”<Dutt translations>. One page later, Engels quoted from the Italian of Abbé Galiani: “Questa infinita che le cose non hanno in progresso, la hanno in giro” (“This infinite, which things do not have in progress, they have in circling”).34 This frontier notion of an “eternal repetition of the same” <ewige Wiederholung desselben> does not inspire Engels further, yet it is—and it comes to—a thoroughly scientific notion that has nothing to do with myth. For Nietzsche it has ramifications, one of those ramifications being the overman. The world of immanence, the world after the death of God, the world, therefore, of natural and human history (the historical sense — the murderer of myths): to man it poses the challenge of a qualitative change, of a radical overcoming of himself. Nothing signifies the overman other than that he must be able to bear life — Nietzsche denied it of himself once — to the finale of just this mythical period, the time of God, but also of art, morality, and all remaining illusions. Lukács’s explanations quite properly demonstrate, contra Bäumler, that there is no contradiction between the idea of eternal recurrence and that of the will to power. In this way, however, Nietzsche became a still better fascist for Lukács than for Bäumler:

Nietzsche’s pseudorevolution originates in the “innocence of becoming,” the crossing-over of the bourgeoisie from the liberal period of “security” to the “grand politics” of the struggle for world domination. With the overload of revaluation pathos, however, this upheaval is still merely a pseudorevolution, a mere intensification of reactionary contents of capitalism, embellished with revolutionary gestures. And eternal recurrence has the function of explicating this myth’s ultimate meaning; the existing social order, created as it is by barbarian tyrants, is said to be the decisive one, a conscious realization of which failing in most cases and being only now and then partially successful. When one considers the methodological structure of this intellectual system, one observes that it corresponds perfectly with Hitler’s, only [let us pay close attention to this “only”!] that, for Hitler, Chamberlain’s racial theory is built in as the new explanatory element to replace eternal recurrence. Nietzsche’s intellectual proximity to Hitlerism cannot, therefore, become lost on the world due to refutation by the false claims, fabrications, and so on, of Bäumler or Rosenberg: it is objectively still greater than they have imagined this to be.35

6. I resist Georg Lukács’ total political revision of Nietzsche because I give priority to a method that seeks foremost to understand this thinker in and through his own times and, from their problems, to explain the framework of his issues. Discussions about Darwinism in Nietzsche’s day, for instance, may afford us a more valid perspective than the purely intellectual historical genealogy by which Lukács perceived in Nietzsche’s views about Darwin “the methodological ‘model’ for fascist racial theory and especially for its practical application.” To this end Lukács cites the following passage from Twilight of the Idols (one of Nietzsche’s last works, written in 1888): “Assuming, however, that there is such a struggle for existence — and, indeed, it occurs — its result is unfortunately the opposite of what Darwin’s school desires, and of what one might perhaps desire with them — namely, in favor of the strong, the privileged, the fortunate exceptions. The species do not grow in perfection: the weak prevail over the strong again and again, for they are the great majority — and they are also more intelligent.”36 We may compare this passage with the following, which comes from the pen of an illustrious Nietzsche contemporary:

Darwin’s mistake lies precisely in lumping together in “natural selection” or “survival of the fittest” two absolutely separate things:

  1. Selection by the pressure of overpopulation, where perhaps the strongest survive in the first place, but where the weakest in many respects can also do so.
  2. Selection by greater capacity of adaptation to altered circumstances, where the survivors are better suited to these circumstances, but where this adaptation as a whole can mean regress just as well as progress (for instance adaptation to parasitic life is always regress).

The main thing: that each advance in organic evolution is at the same time a regression, fixing one-sided evolution and excluding evolution along many other directions. This, however, a basic law.

The contemporary’s name is Friedrich Engels, once again. The note comes from The Dialectics of Nature.37

We must not overlook the differences, neither here, nor with all the previous cited parallel passages, nor with those parallel passages that could be quoted in addition. But it seems important to me that we recapture the atmosphere in which Nietzsche’s philosophy breathed, not to carry out any sort of ideological mission against it — whether for condemnation or absolution.

7. For Lukács, the “fight against the proletarian worldview” represents the entire content of Nietzsche’s philosophy. But where was this “worldview” hiding, that Nietzsche should have known and fought against it? Lukács has already told us: Nietzsche fought against it without knowing about it!

I recommend that we introduce some history here, too. Nietzsche had a very limited knowledge of the socialist movement in Germany. Still further, he grew up in an environment — the parsonage in Röcken and later the administrative city of Naumburg — that we might very well describe with Thomas Mann’s later famous phrase “inwardness supported by power”: a nonpolitical environment par excellence, indeed, a petit-bourgeois one. Then in Leipzig and Basel, Nietzsche shared all the political prejudices of his academic colleagues. When he spoke of “the masses” and “public opinion” or “the herd types,” he understood by this — according to one of his last published notes — the philistine, the “middle class” (hence, his own class).

As a young man Nietzsche admired the “irrational grandeur” of Lassalle (who died in a duel in 1864 when Nietzsche was twenty years old). We may very well imagine that socialism was a topic of discussion with the Wagners in Tribschen every now and then between 1869 and 1872: Cosima Wagner had known Lassalle, Lothar Bucher, and Georg Herwegh — through her [former] husband Hans von Bülow — during her Berlin days. In addition, the old revolutionary of 1848, Richard Wagner, may have talked occasionally of his acquaintance with Bakunin and his experiences during the Dresden uprising of May 1849. The idealist Malwida von Meysenbug mediated Nietzsche’s knowledge of Alexander Herzen’s works and certainly of other revolutionary, more or less socialist literature of Europe at that time. We also know that Nietzsche had a conversation with a Proudhonist in Basel during 1875, at the home of his motherly friend Marie Baumgartner. It remains for us to mention that a series of later leaders of Austrian worker movements in the seventies were Nietzsche admirers: Heinrich Braun, Victor Adler, and Engelbert Pernerstorfer.38 (Thus was fulfilled what had been said by Marxist Franz Mehring, to the great horror of Georg Lukács in The Destruction of Reason, that Nietzsche has been a good preparation for becoming socialist, specifically for the discontented bourgeois youth.)

Of Marx, Nietzsche could have known at most only the name, if he had in fact read the entire thick tome by Karl Eugen Dühring, Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus — which is doubtful despite this work’s presence in his library. Through Dühring’s other writings and the personal proximity of his own brother-in-law, Bernhard Förster, Nietzsche knew what was for him — understandably — an especially unappetizing variation of socialism: the anti-Semitic one.

It will not surprise us, then, when, from the period of Human, All Too Human onward, meaning from 1878 until the end of his sane life in January 1889, Nietzsche raised his famous dictum “As little state as possible!” against the socialism known to him. And at that time in the German social democracy, the question of the state did not command very much clarity, and the decisive document on the subject — Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program (1875) was published for the first time in 1891, sixteen years after its composition (and additionally not in its full text!). This “whole program,” wrote Marx in his critique, “for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the servile belief in the state” of Lassalle’s sect, or, what is no better, by democratic miracle-faith, or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of miracle-faith, both equally remote from socialism.”39 The socialism of which Marx spoke existed at that time — as a theory — only in London, in fact, only for him and for Engels.

At the most Nietzsche himself knew — recall the political narrowness of an academician at that time — either state socialism à la Lassalle or democratic phrases of equality, but mediated by the political agitation of the Eisenachers, for instance. And in fact it is not difficult to find quotations against the equality of man in Nietzsche’s writings, as Lukács does. But the formulations of equality popular in the German social democracy had, in Marx’s estimation, “become obsolete rubbishy phrases.” And in March 1875 Engels wrote to August Bebel: ‘The removal of all social and political Inequality’ Is also a very questionable phrase in place of ‘the abolition of all class differences’.”40 As if more evidence were needed, we read in his notes to Anti-Dühring several years later: “To willingly set up ‘Equality = Justice’ as the highest principle and ultimate truth is absurd. Equality merely exists as a contrast to inequality, justice to injustice; they are, therefore, still linked to ancient history and to ancient society itself.” And further:

Mankind must bring about several generations of social development under a communist regime and under increased aid, until this insistence on equality and justice appears just as laughable as does the insistence on noble, royal privilege, etc., today; until the opposition of the old inequality versus old positive justice has disappeared, even if only to a new, transitional justice out of practicality; until whoever insists on his equal and fair share of the product, on entirely pedantic grounds. shall be doubly mocked. […] And where, then, will equality and justice persevere, other than in the rag drawer of historical memory? Since the same are crucial today for agitation, they are not eternal truths. […] Further, the abstract theory of equality is, and shall remain for the long term, an absurdity. It would not occur to any socialist proletariat or theoretician to wish for an abstract equality between himself and a bushman or Tierra del Fuegan, or even between himself and a peasant or semi-feudal day laborer; and from that moment on, when it has been overcome on European soil alone, the abstract standpoint of equality itself will be overcome.

Engels expressly declares once more: “The equality of the bourgeoisie (dissolution of class privilege) is very different from that of the proletariat (dissolution of the classes themselves). Further examined, meaning, abstractly considered, this latter type of equality becomes nonsense.”41

8. In this way the problematic of equality was nuanced and complex for Engels and Marx; for the practical socialists in Germany and Europe at that time — for understandable reasons — the agitation was simplified and directed toward propagandistic effect. But Nietzsche was familiar with only the latter, and with them never precisely! It is no use, then: Nietzsche’s battle against the proletarian worldview, of which Lukács speaks, takes place in the intellectual, historical, almost metaphysical constructions from Lukács himself, insofar as every philosophy of history that avoids a real confrontation with history and its facts is, in the final analysis, a disguised metaphysic. On historical grounds, in any case, that battle never took place.

This becomes all the more evident when we more closely examine the argumentation with whose assistance Lukács seeks to interpret, in his own sense, Nietzsche’s relationship to the concrete German history of his day, hence Bismarck’s era. For him, Nietzsche’s critique of Bismarck’s Reich is a critique from the right. (Incidentally, exactly the same thing was said — with different circumstances — by Bäumler’s national socialist Nietzsche interpretation.) To unmask Nietzsche as the preacher of Wilhelmian imperialism, Lukács quotes from the philosopher’s letter to his sister of October 1888. The quoted passage runs: “Our new kaiser [meaning Wilhelm II] pleases me very much more. […] He would easily understand the will to power as a principle [Der Wille zur Macht als Prinzipware ihm schon verständlich].” In Lukács’ estimation, understanding the will to power means understanding the “ever increasingly powerful imperialistic strivings of the German bourgeoisie; and this understanding” — according to Lukács — is what “Nietzsche misses in Bismarck.”42

We must immediately notice that Lukács quoted this passage from correspondence in a tendentious manner, because he intentionally left out the reason Nietzsche found something attractive about the young kaiser: specifically, the position Wilhelm II initially took up against court minister Adolf Stöcker and the anti-Semites. But concerning the sentence “He would easily understand the will to power as a principle,” we must make note of the following: the alleged letter of October 1888 to the sister is a fabrication. Of course, we do not mean that this letter was a complete falsification; Nietzsche’s sister constructed it with a technique of quotation montage, that is, from drafts of letters to other persons, out of unpublished passages that were still unknown, and so on. However, we do have the testimony of one of Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s close collaborators, Nietzsche’s pupil and later editor, Peter Gast, to this of all sentences, “He would easily understand the will to power as a principle.” On January 26, 1910, he wrote to Ernst Holzer, a fellow Nietzsche Archive colleague at that time:

With regard to the chapter, “Frau Förster’s Sense of Truth,” I simply must tell you of an instance that I recalled just now and that brings a smile to my face. Why should not one, as a former archivist, jointly support everything that one could never support as a decent human being? When we were printing the second volume of the biography in 1904, Nietzsche’s letter entered into consideration, the one in which our Kaiser, twenty-nine years old at that time, was praised for disparaging remarks about anti-Semites and the Kreuz newspaper. Well, you know how frequently she burned with desire to interest the Kaiser in Nietzsche and to possibly get him to make an acknowledging remark in Nietzsche’s direction. So what did she do toward this goal? …She inserted a sentence that did not exist at all in the relevant letter: she wrote, “He would easily understand the will to power as a principle.” You will recall where this sentence comes from: out of the preface sketch to the Will to Power, which is printed in volume 14, page 420. The composition of this sketch […] belongs among the most difficult tasks in deciphering Nietzsche. The Horneffers had attempted it before me, but their deciphered text had more lacunae than words. They fully wrote out this very sentence alone! Such preliminary work more often than not proves a hindrance rather than a furtherance to the one who comes afterward. Enough then: as the final arbitrator in deciphering this piece, it did not escape my attention that the Horneffers’ decipherment, “They [Germans] would easily understand the will to power as a principle,” could in no way be correct within the context of the preface sketch. And when I had the notebook back in my hands in April of last year, my suspicion was confirmed that it did indeed unquestionably have to read “hardly understood [schwer verständlich]” instead of “easily understood [schon verständlich]”! Isn’t the joke very good indeed that, if Frau Förster wanted to be exact, she would now have had to print, “He [the Kaiser] would hardly understand the will to power as a principle”?!43

The objective basis for Georg Lukács’ one-sided Nietzsche interpretation comes into view here. Lukács has — this is what associates him with Bäumler — undervalued the entire philological problematic connected to Nietzsche’s “philosophical main prose work,” Will to Power, and to the editing of his unpublished works in general. Karl Schlechta rightfully emphasized that the overestimation of the unpublished writings within Nietzsche’s works is a distinctive trait of those who wanted Nietzsche to fit the momentary needs of the day. We should qualify this determination by saying that it is not valid for serious Nietzsche interpretations, such as those of Karl Löwith, Karl Jaspers, Edgar Salin, and others, but all the more for fascist Nietzsche interpretations. They and their kind in no way consider the complete Nachlaß as a problem but instead rest perfectly content with the dilettantish compilation by Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche and her tool until 1909, Peter Gast, both of whom compiled Will to Power out of remaining fragments from the eighties. For this reason, it seems to me that the new Nietzsche edition should be understood within the progress of that new valuation of Nietzsche’s thought about which I spoke at the beginning of this second section.


1 See R. F. Krummel, Nietzsche und der deutsche Geist (Berlin, 1974), 65f.
2 See R. Bollmus, Das Amt Rosenberg und seine Gegner: Zum Machtkampf im nationalsozialistischen Herrschaftssystem (Stuttgart, 1970).
3 See Karl Schlechta’s “Philologischen Nachbericht.” Friedrich Nietzsche. Werke in drei Bänden (München. 1956). vol. 3. pp. 1393ff.
4 Compare this to Eckhard Heftrich. Nietzsches Philosophie, Identität von Welt und Nichts (Frankfurt . 1962), esp. pp. 273-75, 277, and 290-95.
5 See KGW VIII, page vi-f.
6 The noteworthy phrase is from Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, introduction to volume 9 (1906) of Nietzsches Werken (Leipzig. 1905 ff.), the so-called Taschen-Ausgabe [pocketbook edition], p. vii: “Already in the spring of 1883. when I was with my brother in Rome. he said that. Once Zarathustra was finished. he wanted to write his theoretical-philosophical main prose work.”
7 See Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, Nietzsche: Seine Philosophie der Gegensätze und die Gegensätze seiner Philosophie (Berlin. 1971 ), I. [See Müller-Lauter. Nietzsche: His Philosophy of Contradictions and the Contradictions of His Philosophy, trans. David J. Parent (Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 1999), I.]
8 KGW VIII, 9 [188], pp. 1I4f. Compare also in this volume pages 166-68. [Walter Kaufmann does not indicate that he truncated this passage in his translation. pp. xxii-xxiii.]
9 See Wolfgang Müller-Lauter, Nietzsche, 28 [Parent trans., 18].
10 KGW VIII, 2 [155]. p. 140 (autumn 1886).
11 KGW VI, p. 264.
12 KGW VI, p. 130.
13 KGW V, p. 17.
14 Compare to this page 53.
15 See A. Bäumler, Nietzsche der Philosoph und Politiker.
16 See Karl Löwith, Nietzsches Philosophie der ewigen Wiederkehr des Gleichen (Stuttgart, 1965), 212 [Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence, trans. J. Harvey Lomax (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 212].
17 Bäumler, 84.
18 The numbers in parentheses refer to pagination in Bäumler’s book.
19 KGW VI, pp. I48f. [Twilight of the Idols, “What I Owe the Ancients,” sections I, 2].
20 KGW VI, pp. 243f. [The Antichrist, section 58].
21 KGW VI, pp. 359f. [Ecce Homo, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), “Case of Wagner,” section 3].
22 See Gay Science, aphorism 358.
23 See KSA 14, p. 274.
24 See Antonio Gramsci, Quaderni del carcere, critical edition of the Gramsci Institute, ed. Valentino Gerratano (Turin, I975), vol. 2, pp. 1487ff. [Montinari translated the Italian into German in his book].
25 See Friedrich Engels, Dialektik der Natur, Marx-Engels Werke (MEW) (Berlin, 1958ff.), vol. 20, p. 504 [Works of Marxism-Leninism, trans. C.P. Dutt (New York: International, 1938), 248].
26 Georg Lukács, Die Zerstörung der Vernunft (Berlin, I955), pp. 242f.
27 Ibid., p. 247.
28 Ibid.
29 Löwith, Nietzsches Philosophie, p. 206 [Lomax translation, 204].
30 KGW VIII, p. 76.
31 KGW VIII, p. 533.
32 Variation to fragment 2[9], KGW VIII, p. 68. See vol. XIV, p. 386, of the Großoktavausgabe.
33 KGW VIII, p. 18.
34 MEW, vol. 20, pp. 503f. and 505 [Dutt translation, p. 248].
35 Lukács, Zerstörung, p. 304.
36 KGW VII, p. 114 [Kaufmann translation].
37 MEW, vol. 20, p. 564 [Dutt translation, p. 236].
38 KGW IV. (M. Montinari, “Nachbericht zur vierten Abteilung”), pp. I2 and 36f.
39 MEW, vol. I9, p. 31 [Dutt translation, p. 21].
40 MEW, vol. 19, p. 7. Dutt translation, p. 31; and Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, in Works of Marxism-Leninism, vol. II, trans. C.P. Dutt, rev. trans., p. 10.
41 MEW, vol. 20, p. 580f. Anti-Dühring and Dialectics of Nature, in Works of Marxism-Leninism, trans. C.P. Dutt, p. 314.
42 Lukács, Zerstörung, p. 270.
43 Compare KGW VIII, p. 475 (Konkordanz, Anm. 2).

6 thoughts on “Nietzsche through the lens of Nazism and Marxism

  1. Reblogged this on Typing Loud, Knowing Nothing. and commented:
    I am always happy to see scholarship like this. Nietzsche has been tarred with a Nazi brush for too long, by too many, and as a result of too little research and understanding of the real body of his work.

  2. Pingback: For a Dionysian proletariat | The Charnel-House

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