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Response By Eyal Mozes
This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled "Nietzsche and Objectivism."
I agree with most of D.J. Glombowski’s essay. In this commentary, I raise two questions on the issues he discusses.
I. On the subject of Nietzsche and nihilism, D.J. states that Nietzsche sees his will-to-power philosophy as an alternative both to Christian absolute values and to the Nihilistic abandonment of all meaning and value. He “calls for a new breed of philosophers who will be strong enough to carry his philosophy of the future into existence.”
But just why does Nietzsche want these new philosophers to arise, and what good does he expect them to do? Specifically, does Nietzsche believe that these new philosophers are the solution to his culture’s malaise, and that they will help create a new, strong culture?
There are really two related questions here:
a. Will these new philosophers, who recognize the will to power as the source of the life force, be identifying the nature of life as it really is, as opposed to the false approaches of both Christianity and nihilism? On this, I agree with D.J.; Nietzsche’s attitude seems to suggest an affirmative answer, i.e., he does seem to believe that the will-to-power philosophy identifies life as it really is, while other philosophies deceive us about life. This is inconsistent with his Perspectivalism, but that does not seem to disturb him.
b. Even if Nietzsche’s new philosophers will identify the true nature of life, there is still the question: what effect will this have? Why is it important for philosophers to identify the true nature of life? I have not seen anywhere in the readings an indication of what Nietzsche’s view is on this.
Do correct or incorrect philosophies lead to a strong or weak culture? Nietzsche’s view that moral types are based on psycho-biological types would logically lead to a negative answer. To allow a strong culture to rise, what we need is not a better philosophy, but an improvement in the psycho-biological makeup of the species. I don’t see how this will be helped by philosophers recognizing the will to power.
So while Nietzsche has a lot of criticisms of Christianity, Kantianism, and other philosophies that he opposed, it is not clear to me from Nietzsche’s writings that he blames these philosophies for the decline he sees in the culture of his time. It seems just as consistent with Nietzsche’s statements about the culture--and much more consistent with his discussion of morality and values--that he sees the causality as working in the other direction, the decline of the culture being caused by the decline of the species and the greater prevalence of slave-types, and in turn *leading* to the dominance of slave-morality philosophies or of nihilism. Conversely, Nietzsche’s call for new philosophers to recognize the will to power does not mean that he thinks such philosophers will have a positive effect on the culture; rather, he thinks that a stronger culture can come from an improvement in the species, and will in turn *lead* to the rise of philosophers who will accept his will-to-power philosophy.
II. On the subject of Nietzsche and Nazism, I agree with D.J.’s rejection of the idea that Nietzsche can be blamed for Nazism. But I wonder whether even the claim D.J. does accept--that Nietzsche is part of the total influence on Nazism--is justified.
Those ideas that Nietzsche shared with the Nazis--his collectivism, his denigration of reason, his glorification of conflict, his division of people into strong and weak--are all ideas that were prevalent among German intellectuals long before Nietzsche. (I don’t include anti-Judaism in the above list, because Nietzsche’s version of anti-Judaism is so different from Nazi anti-Semitism that it is hard to see anything essential in common between them.) All aspects of Nietzsche’s philosophy that differed from the ideas dominant among earlier German intellectuals--such as his view of the precise nature of the difference between the masters and the slaves, or his attacks on Christianity--are completely different from the ideas held by the Nazis. This leads me to doubt to what extent Nietzsche can be seen as a real influence on the Nazis at all.
It is an interesting question of intellectual history, which I guess goes beyond the scope of this CyberSeminar, to investigate to what extent any Nazi thinkers were actually influenced by reading Nietzsche (rather than just admiring some of his aphorisms--e.g., about the “blond beast”--which sounded good to them when quoted out of context). I do not have the knowledge to answer this question; but given the huge differences between Nietzsche’s and the Nazis’ ideas--and given the handy tool that Nazism provides for smearing by association anything that contemporary intellectuals dislike--I am reluctant to accept claims about Nietzsche’s influence on the Nazis without some strong documentation.
Michal Fram Cohen wrote:
Eyal Mozes wrote: “Do correct or incorrect philosophies lead to a strong or weak culture? Nietzsche’s view that moral types are based on psycho-biological types would logically lead to a negative answer. To allow a strong culture to rise, what we need is not a better philosophy, but an improvement in the psycho-biological makeup of the species. I don’t see how this will be helped by philosophers recognizing the will to power.”
I think that a recognition of the will to power by philosophers can certainly help a culture to be aware of the potential and significance of the will to power. Only an awareness that the will to power is the goal will motivate a culture to do whatever is necessary in order to improve the psycho-biological makeup of the species.
Nietzsche appears to say that some people are born “improved” and some are not and that nothing can be done about it. However, why would he bother to write so much about the will to power if not to spread the word about it and make the readers aware of it? Apparently, the ones who are born “improved” have to be made aware of it by a true philosopher like him. This, perhaps, is the role of the philosophers--to expose the masters among their readers or pupils, let them know they are masters, and support them with the true philosophy.
Back to D.J. Glombowski, "Nihilism and Connections to Naziism"