Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism? On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy

By Jacob Golomb; Robert S. Wistrich | Go to book overview
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4

Nietzsche and “Hitler”

Alexander Nehamas

When one is young, one venerates and despises without that
art of nuances which constitutes the best gain of life, and it is
only fair that one has to pay dearly for having assaulted men
and things in this manner with Yes and No. Everything is
arranged so that the worst of tastes, the taste for the
unconditional, should be cruelly fooled and abused until a man
learns to put a little art into his feelings and rather to risk
trying even what is artificial—as the real artists of life do.
—Nietzsche (BGE, 31)

The reason Hitler's name is in quotation marks in the title of this chapter is that I do not plan to discuss the historical connections between Nietzsche and National Socialism. I am concerned, instead, with a more abstract and, to me, more pressing problem. It concerns Nietzsche's attitude toward the evil hero—the great individual who still, by any reasonable standard, may be a completely unacceptable human being: the kind of person who provokes moral revulsion even in those of us who share, or perhaps (in light of having such a reaction) merely profess to share, Nietzsche's own revulsion at moral values and estimations. “Hitler” is supposed to stand for all such characters. But—that of course is why it is his name, and not, say, Genghis Khan's or Diocletian's, that I use in my title—Hitler is the most trenchant instance of such an evil hero. He is the one, we Nietzscheans, too, think of, inevitably, when we address—or when we skirt addressing—the issue of evil heroes and our reaction to them.

The question that keeps nagging, not only at the back of my mind, is “Does Nietzsche approve of 'Hitler'?” It is a question I, at least, have never faced squarely. Most of those who address it—unless they are willing to concede with J. P. Stern that “the pathos of personal authenticity… was the chief tenet of fascism and national socialism. No man came closer to the full realization of self-created 'values' than A. Hitler”1

-90-

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