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

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

7

Between the Cross and the Swastika:
A Nietzschean Perspective

Robert S. Wistrich

Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the great intellectual iconoclasts of the nineteenth century. In some respects more radical than even Marx or Freud, this descendant of generations of German Protestant pastors became perhaps the most implacable foe of Christianity in modern times. Hence a full reckoning with his thought would ultimately involve a serious examination of the entire Christian heritage of the West. Our purpose is, however, more limited—it is to focus on Nietzsche's attitude toward Jews, Judaism, and anti-Semitism in the light of the Holocaust and the often repeated charge that he was one of the philosophical godfathers of fascism. This accusation has been made even by those who may sometimes concede that he anticipated with the clarity of a prophet the morality of the new age ahead.1 Nonetheless, they insist on a causal connection between his visionary thought and the genocidal project of the Third Reich. While I believe that this guilt by association involves a serious, not to say scandalous, injustice to Nietzsche's work and intentions, it cannot be dismissed out of hand. To answer the charge we need to analyze aspects of Nietzsche's biography, including his views about the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity and his attitude toward contemporary Germans and Jews and toward the rise of anti-Semitism in his own lifetime—as well as to consider those elements in his philosophy that were compatible (or otherwise) with fascism and Nazism. We must remember, too, that Nietzsche's voice was often delib-

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