Jacob Golomb, Robert S. Wistrich, eds. Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism? On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy. Princeton University Press: Oxford University Press, 2002. 344 pp. $75.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-691-00709-0; $25.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-691-00710-6.
Reviewed by Peter Bergmann (Department of History, University of Florida)
Published on H-German (October, 2004)
This lively, problematic, but rewarding volume encapsulates the latest phase of Nietzsche interpretation. During the Nazi era, anti-Nietzscheanism became a convenient rallying cry for anti-fascists. Gyoergy Lukacs, in the Soviet hinterland, and Crane Brinton, in Harvard yard, summoned an anti-Hitler, anti-Nietzsche coalition whose admonition for a defeated Germany was abandon Nietzscheanism. The credibility of the "great man" explanation of Nazism (i.e. from Luther to Hitler via Nietzsche) faded as historians trooped into the archives. Intellectual history went out of fashion, and philosophers returned to either ignoring Nietzsche or depoliticizing (i.e. de-nazifying) him. The "new Nietzsche" of postwar existentialism offered refuge from the philistinism of triumphalist Stalinism or liberalism, while the Dionysian undercurrents of the 1960s opened a back door to a post-fascist Nietzsche. The shadow of the Holocaust prompted qualms, however, even in postmodern quarters. Troubled by the fact that the "only politics calling itself Nietzschean" was Nazi, Jacques Derrida warned, "one can't falsify just anything" (pp. 8, 47). The editors of Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism?, both professors at the University of Jerusalem (one a philosopher, the other an historian), take this stricture to heart. Berel Lang's essay on Nietzsche's "responsibility" for his "misinterpretations" underscores their concern that Nietzsche not escape scot-free.
A cross-section of philosophers, historians, and Germanists along with a theologian and a political scientist bravely struggle with Nietzsche's connection to fascism. Historians have been notoriously out of their depth when faced with Nietzsche's philosophical ruminations, while philosophers have often resorted to heavy breathing and thin abstractions when obliged to consider Nietzsche's political impact. The godfather analogy allows for some indirection. A godfather can be present at the christening as a spiritual guardian or be the underworld boss unleashing the criminality of the nether world. The latter option is never seriously entertained, and the former is employed primarily as a provocation. Representative is Kurt Rudolf Fischer's argument that even if Nazism was a "Nietzschean experiment," Nietzsche functioned more as an accessory than a precursor. The jury of fifteen contributors seem to arrive at the Scotch verdict of "Not Proven." A question is raised, not resolved. Nietzsche is found neither innocent nor guilty, yet inexorably bound to the catastrophic first half of the twentieth century.
The Holocaust brings the Nietzsche problem into sharp relief, but it also further disembodies the concept of fascism. The collapse of European communism has marginalized the socio-economic critique of fascism, promoting in its stead a quasi-religious conception in which anti-Semitism upstages anti-Marxism as fascism's characteristic feature. The distinction between Nazism and the quasi-developed fascisms of southern and eastern Europe are blurred when Nazism becomes simply the most extreme form of fascist ideology. In the one non-German-focused article, "Nietzsche, Mussolini, and Italian Fascism," Mario Sznajder makes clear that anti-Semitism played little or no role in D'Annunzio and Mussolini's refashioning of Italian Nietzscheanism into a fascist aesthetic during World War I. Rather than international fascism, it is the complex Nietzsche-Christianity-Nazi genocide that preoccupies most contributors. Three essays focus on Nietzsche's ambivalence toward Jews, Judaism, and anti-Semitism. Yirmiyahu Yovel traces Nietzsche's anti-anti-Semitism to his repudiation of Wagner's racism and the rise of political anti-Semitism in the 1880s. Menahem Brinker touches on the ambiguities: praise for the ancient Hebrews, scorn for post-exilic Jews as the weak who triumph, and distaste for the Jewish parvenu while championing the assimilated Jew as "the good European." In his overview, Robert Wistrich casts Nietzsche as an unhappy prophet caught "between the cross and the swastika."
Three distinct periods--Nietzsche's sane life (1844-1888), his posthumous career as an international culture hero (1889-1914), and his influence in the era in which fascism arose, flourished and was defeated (1914-1945)--are throughout foreshortened into two: Nietzschean theory and fascist practice. The defeat of the Third Reich all but extinguished German exceptionalism with its superpower ambitions, and has seemingly brought to a close Nietzsche's prophesied age of great wars, at least in Europe. This has left Nietzsche's historical context unexplored. The crisis of Nietzscheanism in World War I is the de facto starting point of historical analysis. This has the effect of re-Germanizing Nietzsche, because he had been for a quarter century an icon of a cosmopolitan avant-garde. His fame took hold simultaneously inside and outside the German-speaking world with several of his last works appearing concurrently in German and foreign translations. It was in the second generation of Nietzscheans that the fascist connection took hold. The defeat of the Second Reich would illustrate Nietzsche's theory of the role of resentment in history, but in a way that would make the philosopher of the "will to power" its principal promoter. The impact of the nihilistic, right-wing Nietzscheanism of Ernst Juenger in the aftermath of World War I is effectively explored by David Ohana. Robert Holub provides a useful corrective by showing how Nietzsche's sister became a convenient scapegoat after 1945. He demonstrates that her largely trivial falsifications, elisions, and hype were intended to make Nietzsche's thought salonfaehig in the official culture of Wilhelmine Germany. As spouse of a leading anti-Semite of the 1880s, grande dame of the Nietzsche archive who was solicitous of her Jewish patrons, and Hitler hostess at the onset of the Third Reich, Elisabeth represented continuity. Her opportunism after 1918 (as after 1933) reflected the longing for a new "official" culture in which Nietzsche would again get his due.
When Nietzsche's thought is paired with his reception, the focus shifts to the posthumous Nietzsche. As contributors mull over the implications of familiar and not-so-familiar Nietzsche quotes, Nietzsche's nineteenth-century political world recedes from view. Daniel Conway does juxtapose Nietzsche's critique of the Second Reich to his nostalgic evocation of the Roman Empire, only to conclude that Nietzsche was "a largely transitional figure, born either too early or too late to place his stamp on a Europe in which he might finally feel at home" (p. 190). Nietzsche's posthumous role in the Third Reich is approached more through flanking operations than by head-on assaults. Alexander Nehemas offers a riff on Nietzsche's "attitude towards the evil hero," with Hitler the "most trenchant instance of such an evil hero." The late Wolfgang Mueller-Lauter recalls coming of age amidst the crude mobilization of a Nazified Nietzsche, and contrasts that with his rediscovery of Nietzsche in the 1960s. Stanley Cornfeld and Geoffrey Waite draw an instructive comparison between the political use of Nietzsche and the poet Hoelderlin, particularly during Nazism's twilight years (p. 90). There is unfortunately no extended discussion of Martin Heidegger's use of Nietzszche, but Roderick Stackelberg provides a fitting conclusion by examining the efforts of a Heidegger student, the controversial historian Ernst Nolte, to "scapegoat Nietzsche as a way of deflecting responsibility for fascism away from the traditionalist conservative right" (p. 303).
As befitting any collective discussion of Nietzsche, there are contradictions, and occasionally one wishes that the authors had studied each other's texts. Yet taken together the volume provides a valuable and stimulating summary of the state of the historicization of Nietzsche and represents a step forward in the demystification of Nietzscheanism. The Colli-Montinari critical edition of Nietzsche's complete works (upon which much of the scholarship in this volume rests) has cleared away decades of archival mischief and with it the false hope of unpublished troves of Nietzscheana. We have what we can see. Here and there contributors speculate as to Nietzsche's post-fascist career. His motto of the "good European" no longer sounds hollow, and the editors even conclude their introduction by speculating Nietzsche would have supported "the idea of a return of the Jews to the land of Israel and statehood" (p. 13). This volume sums up the contribution of the last quarter century of Nietzsche scholarship. What new Nietzsche the post-fascist, post-Cold War, and post-postmodern will bring us is unclear, but it will be in reaction to the fascist, Cold War and postmodern Nietzsche.
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Peter Bergmann. Review of Golomb, Jacob; Wistrich, Robert S., eds., Nietzsche, Godfather of Fascism? On the Uses and Abuses of a Philosophy.
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