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Nietzsche And The Jews, Judaism, And Anti-Semitism
This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled "Nietzsche and Objectivism."
Given the comprehensive essays written by D.J. Glombowksi and David Potts, I do not have much to add in my summary. I would like to examine further the issue of Nietzsche’s attitude toward the Jews, Judaism, and anti-Semitism.
I would like to begin by pointing out certain facts about Nietzsche’s life. While Nietzsche made a few general statements in support of the Jews and against anti-Semitism in his writings, he did not participate in the political and artistic attempts to advance this cause. Unlike Emile Zola, the French writer who protested the Dreifus affair, Nietzsche did not speak out against specific cases of bigotry against Jews. In contrast with Gotthold Lessing and Friedrich Hebbel, the German dramatists who portrayed noble Jewish characters in their plays, Nietzsche did not glorify any Jewish hero in his poetry. In contrast to Lessing’s life-long friendship with the Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn, there is Nietzsche’s worshipful friendship with Richard Wagner, whom Nietzsche regarded as the quintessential Master prototype. Nietzsche never felt a need to criticize Wagner’s obsessive anti-Semitism. When he finally broke up with Wagner, it was because of Wagner’s capitulation to Christianity.
Given the fact that Nietzsche cannot be regarded as a champion of the Jews, the question still remains: What was the extent of his own anti-Semitism? What was the impact of his writings on the National Socialist movement in Germany?
Nietzsche and Christianity
The claim has been made that Nietzsche spoke against Christianity as much as he did against Judaism. The problem is that he also spoke in favor of Christianity as much as he did in favor of Judaism. In Beyond Good and Evil, he writes:
“Jesus said to his Jews: ‘The law was for servants--love God as I love him, as his son! What are morals to us sons of God!’” (BGE, 164)
Later, he glorifies “the Christian in the ecstasies of the cross” as a manifestation of "the painful voluptuousness of tragedy.” (BGE 229) In The Gay Science he exonerates Jesus Christ as a single ray of sunshine over the gloomy Jewish landscape of the wrathful Jehovah (TGS 137). In Human, All Too Human, in the section “Signs of Higher and Lower Cultures,” he upholds Christianity as a source of high culture: “We owe to Christianity, to the philosophers, poets, and musicians, a superabundance of deeply agitated feelings, the hot flow of belief in ultimate truths, which Christianity, especially, has made so wild” (HATH 244)
Nietzsche’s concept of knowledge did not only allow for contradictions. It required them. Only total, comprehensive knowledge, which incorporated opposite opinions, was true knowledge for him. Thus, it was possible for him to write for and against Judaism, for and against Christianity, for and against racism. The National Socialists could interpret his writings any way they wished and manipulate them for their ends because of Nietzsche’s explicit rejection of reason and logic. In contrast, they could not use the writings of Leibnitz, the 17th-century German Rationalist, whose writings they had to ban.
Nietzsche was an emotionalist who had no scruples about expressing his true feelings. Furthermore, he upheld emotions as superior to reason. Here is an anti-Semitic outburst from the horse’s mouth:
“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)” (TGS 357).
In another place, Nietzsche writes that Jewish scholars support logic because logic “makes no distinction between crooked and straight noses” (TGS 348).
With Friends Like That
One of Nietzsche’s strongest statements in support of the Jews and against anti-Semitism is found in a chapter titled “Peoples and Fatherlands” in BGE. Nietzsche writes:
“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” (BGE 251).
Nietzsche regards the Jews as a distinct race that acquired the capacity to dominate Europe. He alludes to conspiracy theories against the Jews, but does not mention any by name or denounce anybody. He does not bother to explain why he thinks the Jews do not intend to use their power. The National Socialists agreed with Nietzsche that the Jews were a distinct race that could take over Europe if they only wanted to. In view of Nietzsche’s persistent advocacy of “the will to power” as the proper motive power for action, it is hard to see why the Jews will not exercise their will to power and attempt to take over Europe. Unless, of course, they were corrupted by their slave morality, in which case they would not merit Nietzsche’s support.
Later in the same section, Nietzsche writes that what the Jews want is to be absorbed and assimilated by Europe. He declares that their wish should be noted and accommodated and even recommends “to expel the anti-Semitic screamers from the country” because they are opposed to this endeavor. (Nietzsche was obviously not concerned with freedom of speech.) His assimilation plan does not consist of granting rights to all the Jews as individual citizens. The assimilation should be done by selection, following the model of the English nobility. Only the noble specimens among the Jews should be allowed admittance into the new European master race. Nietzsche envisions “the cultivation of a new caste that will rule Europe.” For that end, the German “hereditary art of commanding and obeying” can be enriched by the Jewish “genius of money and patience.” Again, Nietzsche and the National Socialists are in total agreement about the subordination of the individual to a biological breeding plan. All the National Socialists had to say was that they could not find any good specimens among the Jews.
Section 251 in BGE was used by the National Socialists in their first book on Nietzsche. The author wrote:
“To wish to give proof regarding Nietzsche’s thoughts in order to establish that they agree with the race views and strivings of the National Socialist movement would be carrying coals to Newcastle” (BGE 251, N27).
That Nietzsche’s attempt to defend the Jews against anti-Semitism could be used by the National Socialists is a grim victory of reason and logic. As much as Nietzsche scorned and dismissed reason and logic, the ideas he advocated could not escape them. In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche writes, in a state of licentious daze: “Reason in language: oh, what a tricky old woman she is! I’m afraid we’re not rid of God because we still believe in grammar” (TOI, “Reason in Philosophy,” 5) Words do have meaning, however, and the National Socialists carried the meaning of his words to their logical conclusion.
BGE - Beyond Good and Evil
TGS - The Gay Science
HATH - Human, All Too Human
TOI - Twilight of the Idols