Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche

Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche

Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche

Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche

Excerpt

Nietzsche has had an incalculably immense impact on European writing and thought since 1900. During the early 1930's, when his thought was lending itself to Nazi distortions, Thomas Mann and Hermann Broch, among German writers, turned against him as a representative "bourgeois esthete" of the later nineteenth century. Mann connected him with the "guilt of the intellect, its unpolitical disregard of the actual world, surrender to the esthetic enjoyment of its own audacities. . . . In those secure bourgeois times, nobody realized how easily a people can be made to believe that there are no longer any iniquities which cry out to heaven." Nonetheless, Nietzsche's nihilism was so symptomatic, his quest of the naked truth so singleminded, his character as a writer and thinker so exhilarating, that Mann used him as a model for his fabulous artificer of the age, the composerAdrian Leverkühn , in his novel Doktor Faustus. This ambiguity is also found in Broch remarkable essay Evil in the Value System of Art (1933). Nietzsche may not be of this age, Broch wrote, since he was a creature of the bourgeois "estheticizing" nineteenth century. But his discovery and analysis of the problem of value are as crucial as Kierkegaard's: they meant the end of an outworn metaphysics, and they anticipated "the immense tension between good and evil, the almost unbearably tense polarizations which mark this age and give it its extremist character, this pressure on people to incorporate into their lives both the highest ethical challenge and a reality which has terrors that often surpass comprehension -- so that life may be lived at all." A third writer, Gottfried Benn -- whose Nietzschean fixation had made him a radio puppet of Nazi ideology at the time Mann and Broch were writing the sentences quoted -- argued as late as 1950 that Nietzsche was in fact innocent of social and political crimes committed in his name:

Politicians. . . are people who, when they get rhetorical, hide behind minds and behind intellectuals whom they do not understand. . . . Yet it is a remarkable fact that . . .

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