Nietzsche – between Good and Evil

Elizabeth and Friedrich Nietzsche

Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche and Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche – between Good and Evil

Chapter and verse on his anti-Semitism

Was Friedrich Nietzsche anti-Semitic? In Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem, Robert C Holub shows that resolving this question requires painstaking analysis of his thought, both published and unpublished, likewise of his correspondence. It also demands an understanding of the milieu in which he lived and of how conceptions of anti-Semitism have changed over time. In this context, The Socialism of Fools?, by William I Brustein and Louisa Roberts, provides invaluable material.

There were probably no Jewish inhabitants either in Röcken, Saxony, where Nietzsche was born in 1844 or in Naumburg to which his family removed in 1850. Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche recalled that neither she nor her brother met any Jews during their early years. Not surprisingly, then, there are no references to Jews or Judaism in his notebooks at this time or in his correspondence prior to first attending the University of Bonn in 1864 or during the year that he resided there.

In 1865, Nietzsche registered at Leipzig University as a student of classical philology. In the same year he visited Berlin with fellow student Hermann Mushacke whose father Eduard was openly anti-Semitic. This evidently did not bother Friedrich and the two became instant friends. He also tolerated anti-Jewish statements by fellow students, Carl von Gersdorff and Erwin Rohde. Gersdorff, for one, accused “Stock market Jews” of fomenting wars and of benefitting financially from them. (Brustein and Roberts note that, in due course, Henri Rochefort, editor of L’Intransigeant, would blame the Jews for the Franco-Prussian War and for the reparations afterwards. And J A Hobson, likewise, in Imperialism, would attribute the Boer War to the influence of “men of a single and peculiar race”). Nietzsche himself made deprecatory observations about the Jewish merchants participating in the Leipzig trade fairs. To his mother he writes that he will soon be relieved “of the smell of fat and the numerous Jews”.

Richard Wagner is not responsible for Nietzsche’s negative view of the Jews because as Professor Holub demonstrates, well before he first met Wagner in late 1868, Nietzsche had already acquired the prejudices “of a noxious German Judeophobia”, which he never really relinquished. Indeed, Richard and Cosima Wagner arguably exerted a restraining influence on Nietzsche’s anti-Semitism! Brustein and Roberts show just how prevalent such prejudices were at this time, profoundly influencing the socialist movement. Thus, in 1894, Jean Jaurès was expelled from the French National Assembly after he criticised the government for not supporting a death sentence for Alfred Dreyfus. Like Édouard Drumont, the author of La France juive, Jaurès was convinced at this juncture that rich Jewish financiers (les tripotages cosmopolites) controlled France and were protecting Dreyfus, their co-religionist. Jaurès cited approvingly Marx’ 1844 essay On the Jewish Question. Brustein and Roberts opine that this latter text “articulated … hostility toward Jews that can be described as anticapitalist”. Over time, Jaurès’ position on this issue evolved as anti-Semitism became predominantly the preserve of the radical right, although he remained deeply ambivalent about the Jews.

Degradation of Alfred Dreyfus

The degradation of Alfred Dreyfus

In his opening chapter, “The Rise and Fall of Nietzschean Anti-Semitism”, Professor Holub records that Theodor Fritsch, editor of the Anti-Semitic Correspondence, contacted Nietzsche in the late 1880’s. Fritsch incorrectly inferred that, because he was associated with Wagner and because his brother in law was Bernard Förster, an initiator of the Anti-Semitic Petition of 1880, Nietzsche was himself a potential recruit for the cause. But as Eugen Dühring* subsequently observed, Nietzsche eventually disowned Wagner and he repeatedly repudiated anti-Semitism qua political movement. Indeed, Dühring’s disciple Ernst Jünemann even suggested that Nietzsche had Jewish ancestry and attributed his eventual fame to Jewish control of the press.

Nietzsche was not a systematic thinker, so his thought is eminently open to diverse interpretations. “Who cannot claim Nietzsche for their own?”, as the Weimar satirist Kurt Tucholsky demanded. So we have Nietzsche the precursor of anarchism and of fascism, even of socialism. Later, again, we have Nietzsche the existentialist and cosmopolitan. We also have Nietzsche the anti-Semite but also the anti anti-Semite! And Professor Holub proposes yet another Nietzsche – the disciple of Galton who regarded the Jews as highly selected and who advocated their intermarriage with the Junkers.

During the Great War, Also sprach Zarathustra was distributed to the German troops. Its author was appropriated by völkisch and militarist elements, who cherry picked apposite items from Nietzsche’s texts, especially from the posthumously published The Will to Power (1901,1906). This process reached its apogee during the late Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. In Nietzsche the Philosopher and Politician (1931), philosopher Alfred Baeumler, who joined the Nazi Party in 1933, claimed that Nietzsche “In his innermost being was disinclined towards the Jews…” Baeumler subsequently maintained that Nietzsche had anticipated the National Socialist state. He ignored the inconvenient fact that Nietzsche had several Jewish disciples, notably Georg Brandes, Paul Rée and the Pernerstorfer Circle in Vienna, and he played down or “contextualised” his numerous anti-German utterances.

The notions of the supposed decadence of “Jewish values” and of the slave morality were central to what Holub calls Nietzsche’s “Nazi appropriation”. Indeed, in Nietzsche (1941), Harvard historian Crane Brinton agreed with Nazi exegetes such as Heinrich Härtle that Nietzsche had considered the Jews as decadents and parasites and as ultimately responsible for Christianity, democracy and Marxism.

After the Second World War, however, a process of sanitation or “decontamination” of the thinker’s reputation ensued. Here, Elizabeth Förster-Nietzsche, whose funeral in 1935 was attended by Hitler, no less, served as a useful alibi or scapegoat. For Richard Roos, Elizabeth was “la soeur abusive”.

Other influential commentators, including Walter Kaufmann and R J Hollingdale (citing the research of Karl Schlechta in the Nietzsche archives) noted that Elizabeth had falsified certain texts and letters. They claimed that by publishing writings never authorised by him and by withholding certain others, she had falsely associated her brother with Nazism. Yet Professor Holub points out that Elizabeth had welcomed commentaries on her brother’s writings by Jewish exegetes and that she criticised Hitler’s harsh policy towards the Jews. Indeed, Holub suspects that Friedrich only opposed the anti-Semitic movement in Germany because in 1886, Bernard Förster had taken his beloved “Llama” away to Paraguay, where he attempted to found a racially pure German colony, Nueva Germania.

Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche with Hitler

Elizabeth Forster-Nietzsche with Hitler

Neither of these impeccably researched volumes will be the last word on these convoluted issues. But they will surely be the starting point for any subsequent analysis.

*Author of The Jewish Question as a Question of Racial Noxiousness for the Existence, Morals and Culture of Nations, 1880

Robert C Holub, Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem; between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism, Princeton University Press, 2016, hb, pp 271

William I Brustein & Louisa Roberts, The Socialism of Fools? Leftist Origins of Modern Anti-Semitism, Cambridge University Press, 2015, hb, pp 211 

Reviewed by Leslie Jones

Dr Leslie Jones is the editor of Quarterly Review

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4 Responses to Nietzsche – between Good and Evil

  1. David Ashton says:

    As the late Professor Joad used to say, “It all depends on what you mean by ‘antisemitism’.”

  2. Why should we like Jews? Why is that mandatory?

    Are Jews required to like Germans, Russians, or any other people?

    The very concept of ‘antisemitism’ as an evil is ridiculous.

    People will like or dislike Jews on the basis of Jewish behavior or Jewish power.
    If what Jews push is harmful to your people, then you have every right to be anti-Jewish.

    ‘Anti-Semite’ is a slur against those who don’t mindlessly worship Jews.

    • David Ashton says:

      As someone who has managed to get similar observations published on both the Gatestone Institute and Occidental Observer websites, I suppose I am in a minority when it comes to commenting on Jews and “Jewish behavior” which of course are quite varied in definition and impacts.

      Miss Letania’s comment seems quite reasonable as it stands, except in its presumable implication that Jews are alike and all act alike. A good recent example is blaming “the Jews” (i.e. Barbara Spectre, George Soros or JCOR, for instance) as a whole primarily for the massive influx of Muslims and others from the Global South into Europe, which is “good” neither for the “Jewish street” nor for Israel. Nor for Christian or Secular Europeans either, of course.

      It would require a substantial book to analyze thoroughly and objectively all the issues raised by “antisemitism” since WW2 alone, and if I had my time over again, I would have a go at this myself. Meanwhile, one can only provide a quality reading list for anyone who recognizes that there is a problem about the problem, and a problem with any solution. That it is sensitive, explosive and complex can hardly be denied by anyone familiar with the relevant material.

      • David Ashton says:

        PS. As a further post-Corbyn comment on this subject, two recent experiences of mine might be of some slight interest.

        MacDonald’s “Occidental Observer” has become more than ever an echo chamber for psychopaths, ranging from a Japanese swastika-samurai who thinks “the Jews” came from outer space to maniacs who think all “the Jews” in the world should be rounded up and “dealt with”, with a special place for a regular commentator self-styled “Rerevisionist” who thinks nuclear weapons are merely a “Jewish myth”, and that “the Jews” are totally responsible for Christianity and Maoism. If you attempt to post sensible, factual or rational comments, you are then either denounced as a trolling Jew or banned, and I am now told to “f— off for ever”. The debate-averse website is a gift to the likes of the ADL, if it isn’t actually infiltrated by clever opponents. Old MacDonald now has a farm, a “funny farm”.

        I recently had a visit and then email questions from a big-noise journalist, with a fabricated list that had me attending a neo-fascist conference in Italy in 1962, completely untrue. But it also appeared that I am on an immense dossier, ranging from a letter I had written as a schoolboy to recent website comments. The late Auberon Waugh once found his name included on a blacklist of “thousands” including Jewish critics of Israel.

        Meanwhile, we are told that terror cannot be stopped so long as we are a “free society” and, of course, a society that “works for everyone” whether transgender aspirant or some other, except traditional Christian heterosexual white English native married parents, aka “far right extremists”.

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