Critique as Apologetics:
Nolte's Interpretation of Nietzsche
In his recent study of the political reception of Nietzsche in Germany, Steven Aschheim has warned (with particular reference to Walter Kaufmann) against the kind of intellectual history that tries to discredit particular interpretations of Nietzsche by constructing an essential Nietzsche from which the interpretation in question deviates. Such an essentialist approach, which renders Nietzsche's legacy “either as a record of deviation from, or as faithful representation of, a prior interpretative construction of the 'real' Nietzsche,” cannot do justice to the dynamic diversity of Nietzsche's actual influence, nor does it illuminate the actual processes through which Nietzsche historically has been appropriated.1 In the postmodernist view, Nietzsche's philosophy cannot yield a single definitive interpretation. Viewed through different lenses, Nietzschean texts will always take on a multiplicity of meanings. The critical issue for Aschheim is not to pin down what Nietzsche “really” means, but rather to map the ways he has been received and used. It does not get us very far, Aschheim warns, to convict the Nazis of misusing Nietzsche (although he does concede the usefulness of exposing deliberate distortions such as Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche's erasures and forgeries), because Nietzsche did indisputably serve as a source of inspiration for many Nazis. What needs to be explained is why this was the case and why the Nazis were so easily able to exploit Nietzsche's philosophy for their purposes.