Influence and reception of Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche's influence and reception varied widely and may be roughly divided into various chronological periods. Reactions were anything but uniform, and proponents of various ideologies attempted to appropriate his work quite early. By 1937, this led Georges Bataille to argue against any 'instrumentalization' of Nietzsche's thought; Bataille felt that any simple-minded interpretation or unified ideological characterization of Nietzsche's work granting predominance to any particular aspect failed to do justice to the body of his work as a whole.[1]

Beginning while Nietzsche was still alive, though incapacitated by mental illness, many Germans discovered his appeals for greater individualism and personality development in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but responded to those appeals in diverging ways. He had some following among left-wing Germans in the 1890s; in 1894–95, German conservatives wanted to ban his work as subversive. During the late 19th century, Nietzsche's ideas were commonly associated with anarchist movements and appear to have had influence within them, particularly in France and the United States.[2] Nietzsche even had a distinct appeal for many Zionist thinkers around the start of the 20th century. It has been argued the his work influenced Theodore Herzl,[3] and Martin Buber went so far as to extol Nietzsche as a "creator" and "emissary of life".[4]

By World War I, however, he had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for right-wing German militarism. German soldiers even received copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as gifts during World War I.[5][6] The Dreyfus Affair provides another example of his reception: the French anti-semitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfus as "Nietzscheans".[7] Such seemingly paradoxical acceptance by diametrically opposed camps is typical of the history of the reception of Nietzsche's thought. In the context of the rise of French fascism, one researcher notes, "Although, as much recent work has stressed, Nietzsche had an important impact on "leftist" French ideology and theory, this should not obscure the fact that his work was also crucial to the right and to the neither right nor left fusions of developing French fascism.[8]

Many political leaders of the twentieth century were at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche's ideas. However, it is not always possible to determine whether or not they actually read his work. Regarding Hitler, for example, there is a debate. Some authors claim that he probably never read Nietzsche, or that if he did, his reading was not extensive.[9] Nevertheless, others point to a Hitler's speech in Hitler's Table Talk, where the dictator mentioned Nietzsche when he spoke about what he called "great men", as an indication that Hitler may have been familiarized with Nietzsche's work.[10] Other authors like Melendez (2001) point out to the parallelism between Hitler's and Nietzsche's anti-egalitarianism,[11] and the idea of the "übermensch",[12] a term which was frequently used by Hitler and Mussolini to refer to the so-called "Aryan race".[13] Alfred Rosenberg, an influential Nazi ideologist, also delivered a speech in which he related National Socialism to Nietzsche's ideology. [14] Broadly speaking, the Nazis made very selective use of Nietzsche's philosophy, and eventually, this association caused Nietzsche's reputation to suffer following World War II. [15]

On the other hand, it is known that Mussolini certainly read Nietzsche,[16] as did Charles de Gaulle.[17] It has been suggested that Theodore Roosevelt read Nietzsche and was profoundly influenced by him,[18] and in more recent years, Richard Nixon read Nietzsche with "curious interest".[19]

Perhaps Nietzsche's greatest political legacy lies in his 20th century interpreters, among them Martin Heidegger, Pierre Klossowski, Georges Bataille, Leo Strauss, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze (and Félix Guattari), and Jacques Derrida. Foucault's later writings, for example, adopt Nietzsche's genealogical method to develop anti-foundationalist theories of power that divide and fragment rather than unite polities (as evinced in the liberal tradition of political theory). Deleuze, arguably the foremost of Nietzsche's interpreters, used the much-maligned 'will to power' thesis in tandem with Marxian notions of commodity surplus and Freudian ideas of desire to articulate concepts such as the rhizome and other 'outsides' to state power as traditionally conceived.

Nietzsche and anarchism

During the 19th century, Nietzsche was frequently associated with anarchist movements, in spite of the fact that in his writings he seems to hold a negative view of anarchists.[20] This may be the result of a popular association during this period between his ideas and those of Max Stirner.[21]

Spencer Sunshine writes "There were many things that drew anarchists to Nietzsche: his hatred of the state; his disgust for the mindless social behavior of "herds"; his anti-Christianity; his distrust of the effect of both the market and the State on cultural production; his desire for an "overman" — that is, for a new human who was to be neither master nor slave; his praise of the ecstatic and creative self, with the artist as his prototype, who could say, "Yes" to the self-creation of a new world on the basis of nothing; and his forwarding of the "transvaluation of values" as source of change, as opposed to a Marxist conception of class struggle and the dialectic of a linear history."[22]

For Sunshine "The list is not limited to culturally-oriented anarchists such as Emma Goldman, who gave dozens of lectures about Nietzsche and baptized him as an honorary anarchist. Pro-Nietzschean anarchists also include prominent Spanish CNTFAI members in the 1930s such as Salvador Seguí and anarcha-feminist Federica Montseny; anarcho-syndicalist militants like Rudolf Rocker; and even the younger Murray Bookchin, who cited Nietzsche's conception of the "transvaluation of values" in support of the Spanish anarchist project." Also in european individualist anarchist circles his influence is clear in thinker/activists such as Emile Armand[23] and Renzo Novatore[24] among others. Also more recently in post-left anarchy Nietzsche is present in the thought of Hakim Bey and Wolfi Landstreicher.

Nietzsche and Zionism

Jacob Golomb observed, "Nietzsche's ideas were widely disseminated among and appropriated by the first Hebrew Zionist writers and leaders."[25] According to Steven Aschheim, "Classical Zionism, that essentially secular and modernizing movement, was acutely aware of the crisis of Jewish tradition and its supporting institutions. Nietzsche was enlisted as an authority for articulating the movement's ruptured relationship with the past and a force in its drive to normalization and its activist ideal of self-creating Hebraic New Man."[26]

Francis R. Nicosia notes, "At the height of his fame between 1895 and 1902, some of Nietzsche's ideas seemed to have a particular resonance for some Zionists, including Theodore Herzl."[27] Among many other facts that show Herzl had a serious interest in Nietzsche, at least for a time (including the fact that under his editorship the Neue Freie Presse dedicated seven consecutive issues to Nietzsche obituaries), Golomb points out that Herzl's cousin Raoul Auernheimer claimed, in a memorial tribute, that Herzl was familiar with Nietzsche and had "absorbed his style".[28]

On the other hand, Gabriel Sheffer suggests that Herzl was too bourgeois and too eager to be accepted into mainstream society to be much of a revolutionary, and hence could not have been strongly influenced by Nietzsche, but remarks, "Some East European Jewish intellectuals, such as the writers Yosef Hayyim Brenner and Micha Josef Berdyczewski, followed after Herzl because they thought that Zionism offered the chance for a Nietzschean 'transvaluation of values' within Jewry".[29] Nietzsche also influenced Theodor Lessing.

Martin Buber was fascinated by Nietzsche, whom he praised as a heroic figure, and he strove to introduce "a Nietzschean perspective into Zionist affairs." In 1901, Buber, who had just been appointed the editor of Die Welt, the primary publication of the World Zionist Organization, published a poem in Zarathustrastil ( a style reminiscent of Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra) calling for the return of Jewish literature, art and scholarship.[30]

However, praise for Nietzsche was not by any means universal among Zionists. Max Nordau, an early Zionist orator, insisted that Nietzsche had been insane since birth, and advocated "branding his disciples [...] as hysterical and imbecile."[31]

Nietzsche and fascism

See also Nietzsche's criticism of anti-Semitism and nationalism.

The Italian and German fascist regimes were eager to lay claim to Nietzsche's ideas, and to position themselves as inspired by them. In 1932, Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche received a bouquet of roses from Adolf Hitler during a German premiere of Benito Mussolini's 100 Days, and in 1934 Hitler personally presented her with a wreath for Nietzsche's grave carrying the words "To A Great Fighter". Also in 1934, Elisabeth gave to Hitler Nietzsche's favorite walking stick, and Hitler was photographed gazing into the eyes of a white marble bust of Nietzsche.[32] Heinrich Hoffmann's popular biography Hitler as Nobody Knows Him (which sold nearly a half-million copies by 1938) featured this photo with the caption reading: "The Führer before the bust of the German philosopher whose ideas have fertilized two great popular movements: the National Socialist of Germany and the Fascist of Italy."[33]

Nietzsche was no less popular among French fascists, as Robert S. Wistrich has pointed out

The "fascist" Nietzsche was above all considered to be a heroic irrationalist and vitalist who had glorified war and violence, inspiring the anti-Marxist revolutions of the interwar period. According to the French fascist Pierre Drieu la Rochelle, it was the Nietzschean emphasis on the Will that inspired the voluntarism and political activism of his comrades. Such one-dimensional readings were vehemently rejected by another French writer, the anarchist Georges Bataille, who in the 1930s sought to establish the "radical incompatibility" between Nietzsche (as a thinker who abhorred mass politics) and "the Fascist reactionaries." He argued that nothing was more alien to Nietzsche than the pan-Germanism, racism, militarism and anti-Semitism of the Nazis, into whose service the German philosopher had been pressed.[34]

The German philosopher Heidegger, who was (with great harm to his subsequent reputation) an active member of the Nazi Party, himself noted that everyone in his day was either 'for' or 'against' Nietzsche while claiming that this thinker heard a "command to reflect on the essence of a planetary domination." Alan D. Schrift cites this passage and writes, "That Heidegger sees Nietzsche heeding a command to reflect and prepare for earthly domination is of less interest to me than his noting that everyone thinks in terms of a position for or against Nietzsche. In particular, the gesture of setting up "Nietzsche" as a battlefield on which to take one's stand against or to enter into competition with the ideas of one's intellectual predecessors or rivals has happened quite frequently in the twentieth century."[35]

Despite protests from Bataille, Thomas Mann, Albert Camus and others, the Nazi movement found much affinity with Nietzsche's ideas, including his attacks against democracy, Christianity, and parliamentary governments. In The Will to Power Nietzsche praised – though sometimes ambiguously – war and warriors, and heralded a ruling race that would become the "lords of the earth". The Nazis appropriated from Nietzsche's views on women, which declared that "Man shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior, anything else is folly", for their social program for women, "They belong in the kitchen and their chief role in life is to beget children for German warriors."[36]

During the interbellum years, certain Nazis had employed a highly selective reading of Nietzsche's work to advance their ideology, notably Alfred Baeumler in his reading of The Will to Power. The era of Nazi rule (1933–1945) saw Nietzsche's writings widely studied in German (and, after 1938, Austrian) schools and universities. Despite the fact that Nietzsche expressed his disgust with anti-Semitism and German nationalism in the most forthright terms possible (e.g. he resolved "to have nothing to do with anyone involved in the perfidious race-fraud"), phrases like "the will to power" became common in Nazi circles. The wide popularity of Nietzsche among Nazis stemmed in part from the endeavors of his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, the editor of Nietzsche's work after his 1889 breakdown, and an eventual Nazi sympathizer. Mazzino Montinari, while editing Nietzsche's posthumous works in the 1960s, found that Förster-Nietzsche, while editing the posthumous fragments making up The Will to Power, had cut extracts, changed their order, added titles of her own invention, included passages of others authors copied by Nietzsche as if they had been written by Nietzsche himself, etc.[37]

But Nietzsche's reception among fascists was not universally warm. One "rabidly Nazi writer, Curt von Westernhagen, who announced in his book Nietzsche, Juden, Antijuden (1936) that the time had come to expose the 'defective personality of Nietzsche whose inordinate tributes for, and espousal of, Jews had caused him to depart from the Germanic principles enunciated by Meister Richard Wagner'" is a representative example.[38]

The real problem with the labelling of Nietzsche as a Fascist, or worse, a Nazi, is that it ignores the fact that Nietzsche's aristocratism seeks to revive an older conception of politics, one which he locates in Greek agon which [...] has striking affinities with the philosophy of action expounded in our own time by Hannah Arendt. Once an affinity like this is appreciated, the absurdity of describing Nietzsche's political thought as 'Fascist', or Nazi, becomes readily apparent.[39]

Nietzsche and psychoanalysis

The psychologist Carl Jung recognized Nietzsche's importance early on: he held a seminar on Nietzsche's Zarathustra in 1934.[40] Nietzsche had also an important influence on psychotherapist and founder of the school of individual psychology Alfred Adler. According to Ernest Jones, biographer and personal acquaintance of Sigmund Freud, Freud frequently referred to Nietzsche as having "more penetrating knowledge of himself than any man who ever lived or was likely to live".[41] Yet Jones also reports that Freud emphatically denied that Nietzsche's writings influenced his own psychological discoveries. Moreover, Freud took no interest in philosophy while a medical student, forming his opinion about Nietzsche later in life.

Early 20th-century thinkers

Early twentieth-century thinkers who read or were influenced by Nietzsche include: philosophers Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ernst Jünger, Theodor Adorno, Georg Brandes, Martin Buber, Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Leo Strauss, Michel Foucault, Julius Evola, Emil Cioran, Miguel de Unamuno, Lev Shestov, Ayn Rand, José Ortega y Gasset and Muhammad Iqbal; sociologists Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber; composers Richard Strauss, Alexander Scriabin, Gustav Mahler, and Frederick Delius; historians Oswald Spengler, Fernand Braudel [42] and Paul Veyne, theologians Paul Tillich and Thomas J.J. Altizer; occultist Aleister Crowley; novelists Franz Kafka, Joseph Conrad, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, André Malraux, Nikos Kazantzakis, André Gide, Knut Hamsun, August Strindberg, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and Vladimir Bartol; psychologists Sigmund Freud, Otto Gross, C. G. Jung, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Rollo May and Kazimierz Dąbrowski; poets John Davidson, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens and William Butler Yeats; painters Salvador Dalí, Wassily Kandinsky, Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko; playwrights George Bernard Shaw, Antonin Artaud, August Strindberg, and Eugene O'Neill; and authors H. P. Lovecraft, Olaf Stapledon, Menno ter Braak, Richard Wright, Robert E. Howard, and Jack London. American writer H.L. Mencken avidly read and translated Nietzsche's works and has gained the sobriquet "the American Nietzsche". Nietzsche was declared an anarchist by Emma Goldman, and he influenced other anarchists such as Guy Aldred, Rudolf Rocker, Max Cafard and John Moore.

The popular writer, philosopher, poet, journalist and Christian apologist G. K. Chesterton expressed contempt for Nietzsche's ideas:

I do not even think that a cosmopolitan contempt for patriotism is merely a matter of opinion, any more than I think that a Nietzscheite contempt for compassion is merely a matter of opinion. I think they are both heresies so horrible that their treatment must not be so much mental as moral, when it is not simply medical. Men are not always dead of a disease and men are not always damned by a delusion; but so far as they are touched by it they are destroyed by it.

— May 31, 1919, Illustrated London News

Thomas Mann's essays mention Nietzsche with respect and even adoration, although one of his final essays, "Nietzsche's Philosophy in the Light of Recent History", looks at his favorite philosopher through the lens of Nazism and World War II and ends up placing Nietzsche at a more critical distance. Many of Nietzsche's ideas, particularly on artists and aesthetics, are incorporated and explored throughout Mann's works. One of the characters in Mann's 1947 novel Doktor Faustus represents Nietzsche fictionally. In 1938 the German existentialist Karl Jaspers wrote the following about the influence of Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard:

The contemporary philosophical situation is determined by the fact that two philosophers, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, who did not count in their times and, for a long time, remained without influence in the history of philosophy, have continually grown in significance. Philosophers after Hegel have increasingly returned to face them, and they stand today unquestioned as the authentically great thinkers of their age. [...] The effect of both is immeasurably great, even greater in general thinking than in technical philosophy

— Jaspers, Reason and Existenz

Bertrand Russell in his epic History of Western Philosophy was scathing in his chapter on Nietzsche, calling his work the "mere power-phantasies of an invalid" and referring to Nietzsche as a "megalomaniac". In one particularly harsh section, Russell says:

It is obvious that in his day-dreams he is a warrior, not a professor; all of the men he admires were military. His opinion of women, like every man's, is an objectification of his own emotion towards them, which is obviously one of fear. "Forget not thy whip"-- but nine women out of ten would get the whip away from him, and he knew it, so he kept away from women, and soothed his wounded vanity with unkind remarks. [...] [H]e is so full of fear and hatred that spontaneous love of mankind seems to him impossible. He has never conceived of the man who, with all the fearlessness and stubborn pride of the superman, nevertheless does not inflict pain because he has no wish to do so. Does any one suppose that Lincoln acted as he did from fear of hell? Yet to Nietzsche, Lincoln is abject, Napoleon magnificent. [...] I dislike Nietzsche because he likes the contemplation of pain, because he erects conceit into duty, because the men whom he most admires are conquerors, whose glory is cleverness in causing men to die. But I think the ultimate argument against his philosophy, as against any unpleasant but internally self-conscious ethic, lies not in an appeal to facts, but in an appeal to the emotions. Nietzsche despises universal love; I feel it the motive power to all that I desire as regards the world. His followers have had their innings, but we may hope that it is coming rapidly to an end.

— Russell, History of Western Philosophy

Nietzsche after World War II

The appropriation of Nietzsche's work by the Nazis, combined with the rise of analytic philosophy, ensured that British and American academic philosophers would almost completely ignore him until at least 1950. Even George Santayana, an American philosopher whose life and work betray some similarity to Nietzsche's, dismissed Nietzsche in his 1916 Egotism in German Philosophy as a "prophet of Romanticism". Analytic philosophers, if they mentioned Nietzsche at all, characterized him as a literary figure rather than as a philosopher. Nietzsche's present stature in the English-speaking world owes much to the exegetical writings and improved Nietzsche translations by the German-American philosopher Walter Kaufmann and the British scholar R.J. Hollingdale.

Nietzsche's influence on continental philosophy increased dramatically after the Second World War, especially among the French intellectual Left and post-structuralists. Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Michel Foucault all owe a heavy debt to Nietzsche. Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Klossowski wrote monographs drawing new attention to Nietzsche's work, and a 1972 conference at Cérisy-la-Salle ranks as the most important event in France for a generation's reception of Nietzsche. In Germany interest in Nietzsche was revived from the 1980s onwards, particularly by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who has devoted several essays to Nietzsche.

In recent years, Nietzsche has also influenced members of the analytical philosophy tradition, such as Bernard Williams in his last finished book, Truth And Truthfulness: An Essay In Genealogy (2002).

Further reading