Hitler and Nietzsche
BK recently wrote a good article rebutting the commonly asserted (at least on the Internet) belief that Hitler was a Christian. Some time ago I wrote an essay on where Hitler actually drew most of his philosophical beliefs, and I offer it here today. I hope that others find it useful in this discussion.
“They may all be called heroes, inasmuch as they derived their purposes and their vocation, not from the calm regular course of things, sanctioned by the existing order; but from a concealed found, from that inner spirit, still hidden beneath the surface, which impinges on the outer worlds as a shell and bursts it into pieces. (Such were Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon.) They were practical, political men. But at the same time they were thinking men, who had an insight into the requirements of the time-what was ripe for development. This was the very truth for their age, for their world… It was theirs to know this nascent principle, the necessary, directly sequent step in progress, which their world was to take; to make this their aim, and to expend their energy in promoting it. World-historical men-the heroes of an epoch-must therefore be recognized as its clear-sighted ones: their deeds, their words are the best of their time…
World history occupies a higher ground than that on which morality has properly its position, which is personal character and the conscience of individuals… Moral claims which are irrelevant must not be brought into collision with world-historical deeds and their accomplishment. The litany of private virtues-modesty, humility, philanthropy, and forbearance-must not be raised against them… So mighty a form [Hegel adds elsewhere] must trample down many an innocent flower-crush to pieces many an object in its path.”
Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, (New York: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1991) pg. 347-8 quoting G.W.F. Hegel, _Lectures on the Philosphy of History_, trans. J. Sibree (London: 1902), pp.31-32, 70, 34.
“The quotation from Hegel at the beginning of the chapter (cf. pg. 347-8) points to the advantage Hitler had in the existence of the deep-rooted belief in the “heroic leadership” reflected in nineteenth-century German thought and literature…
Friedrich Nietzsche sums up this tradition in inimitable fashion. The future, he declared, belonged to the artist-politician, the political leader who was the artist in another medium.
‘Such things are incalculable, they come like fate without cause or reason, inconsiderately and without pretext. Suddenly they are here like lightning:: too terrible, too sudden, too compelling and too “different” even to be hated… What moves them is the terrible egotism of the artist of the brazen glance, who knows himself to be justified for all eternity in his “work” as the mother is justified in her child.’
Ibid., pg. 351 with quote from F. Nietzsche, _Zur Genealogie der Moral_ (1887), sec. II, para. 17.
“For his faith in the decisive power of the human will, Hitler could again draw on the teaching of German nineteenth-century thinkers, two in particular. The first was Arthur Schopenhauer, the author of _The World as Will and Idea_, from which his secretary says he could quote whole passages. The second was Friedrich Nietzsche: He presented his collected works to Mussolini… Hitler refused to recognize any difficulties as inherent in a problem. He saw only human incompetence and human ill will.”“Yet I think no one who lived in the Third Reich could have failed to be impressed by Nietzsche’s influence on it… Nazi scribblers never tired of extolling him. Hitler often visited the Nietzsche museum in
Ibid. pg. 352.
and publicized his veneration for the philosopher by posing photographs of himself stare in in rapture at the bust of the great man. Weimar
There was some ground for this appropriation of Nietzsche as one of the originators of the Nazi Weltanschauung. Had not the philosopher thundered against democracy and parliaments, preached the will to power, praised war and proclaimed the coming of the master race and the superman-and in the most telling aphorisms? A Nazi could proudly quote him on almost every conceivable subject, and did…
Finally there was Nietzsche’s prophecy of the coming elite who would rule the world and from whom the superman would spring. In _The Will to Power_ he exclaims: “A daring and ruler race is building itself up… The aim should be to prepare a transvaluation of values for a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will. This man and the elite around him will become the “lords of the earth”
… “Lords of the Earth” is a familiar expression in _Mein Kampf_. That in the end Hitler considered himself the superman of Nietzsche’s prophecy can not be doubted.”
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), pg. 100-101
“Thus, for the formation of higher cultures the existence of lower human types was one of the most essential preconditions …It is certain that the first culture of humanity was based less on the tamed animal than on the use of lower human beings. Only after the enslavement of subject races did the same fate strike beasts. For the first the conquered warrior drew the low-and only after him the horse. Hence it is no accident that the first cultures arose in places where the Aryan, in his encounters with lower peoples, subjugated them and bent them to his will …As long as he ruthlessly upheld the master attitude, not only did he remain master, but also the preserver and increaser of culture.”
Ibid. pg. 87 quoting A. Hitler, _Mein Kampf_ (
:1943), pg. 295-6. Boston
“The strong men, the masters, regain the pure conscience of the beast of prey; monsters filled with joy, they can return from a fearful succession of murder, arson, rape and torture, with the same joy in their hears, the same contentment in their souls as if they had indulged in some student’s rag… When a man is capable of commanding, when he is by nature a “Master,” when he is violent in act and gesture, of what importance are treaties to him? …To judge morality properly, it must be replaced by two concepts borrowed from zoology: the taming of a beast and the breading of a specific species.”
Ibid. pg. 111 quoting F. Nietzsche, _Zur Genealogie der Moral_ and _Der Wille zur Macht_.
The above quotations are meant to provide some context for the thesis of this post. The ideas of many of the great German philosophers of the 19th Century, and in particular, those of the Friedrich Nietzsche, contributed significantly to the intellectual environment that helped to produce Nazism. Nietzsche himself was not a Nazi, of course, nor even an anti-Semite. He did not even think much of the German people as a “tribe”. But so far as Hitler was concerned, this hardly mattered. The two shared a fundamental philosophy rooted in primacy of the will over all else, and the right of the powerful to impose his own set of morals upon those who were less than himself. That Hegel, Schopenhauer, Stein, Nietzsche, and Co. failed to appreciate what their ideas would mean in practical application does not excuse them from the consequences of the intellectual climate they bequeathed to
The balance of this post will focus on Nietzsche’s ideas specifically, taken from his most famous book, Beyond Good and Evil (Toronto: Penguin Books, 1990). All quotations will be from this copy, hereafter referred to as BGE, and I will offer both page and paragraph references so that those with other editions may more easily look them up. I apologize in advance for the length of the quotations, but I consider them necessary, and also to avoid the potential misperception that they may be taken out of context. All emphasis, when shown, is original to the text.
“ ‘Freedom of will’-is the expression for that complex condition of pleasure of the person who wills, who commands and at the same time identifies himself with the executor of the command-who as such also enjoys the triumph over resistances involved but who thinks it was his will itself which overcame these resistances. He who wills adds in the way the sensation of pleasure of the successful agents, the serviceable ‘under-wills’ or under-souls-for our body is only a social structure composed of many souls-to his sensation of pleasure as commander… In all willing it is absolutely a question of commanding and obeying, on the basis, as I have said already, of a social structure composed of many ‘souls’” on which account a philosopher should claim the right to include willing as such within the field of morality: that is, of morality understood as the theory of the relations of dominance under which the phenomenon ‘life’ arises.”
BGE pg. 49.
“All psychology has hitherto remained anchored to moral prejudices and timidities: it has not ventured into the depths. To conceive it as morphology and the development-theory of the will to power, as I conceive it-has never yet so much as entered the mind of anyone else… The power of moral prejudices has penetrated deep into the most spiritual world, which is apparently the coldest and most free of presuppositions-and, as goes without saying, has there acted in a harmful, inhibiting, blinding, distorting fashion… Supposing, however, that someone goes so far as to regard the emotions of hatred, envy, covetousness, and lust for domination as life-conditioning emotions, as something which must fundamentally and essentially be present in the total economy of life… and yet even this hypothesis is far from being the strangest and most painful in this tremendous, still almost unexplored realm of dangerous knowledge-and there are in fact a hundred good reason why everyone should keep from it who-can! On the other hand: if your ship has been driven into these seas, very well! Now clench your teeth! Keep your eyes open! Keep a firm hand on the helm! –We sail straight over morality and past it, we flatten, we crush perhaps what is left of our own morality by venturing to voyage thither-but what do we matter! Never yet has a deeper world of insight revealed itself to daring travellers and adventures: and the psychologist who in this fashion ‘brings a scarific’- it is not the sacrifizie dell’intelletto, on the contrary! – will at least be entitled to demand in return that psychology shall again be recognized as the queen of sciences, to serve and prepare for which the other sciences exists…
Hitler obviously did not shy away from these “unexplored realms of dangerous knowledge” nor did his hand ever waver as he steered
Every superior human being will instinctively aspire after a secret citadel where he is set free from the crowd, the many, the majority, where, as its exception, he may forget the rule ‘man’- except in the one case in which, as a man of knowledge in the great and exceptional sense, he will be impelled by an even stronger instinct to make straight for this rule.
Few are made for independence-it is a privilege of the strong. And he who attempts it, having the completest right to it but without being compelled to, thereby proves that he is probably not only strong but also daring to the point of recklessness. He ventures into a labyrinth, he multiplies by a thousand the dangers which life as such already brings with it… and is torn to pieces limb from limb by some cave-minotaur of conscience. If such a one is destroyed, it takes place so far from the understanding of men that they neither feel it nor sympathize-and he can no longer go back! He can no longer go back even to the pity of men!
Perhaps Hitler drew comfort from such words as these as he sat in his bunker in April 1945. No doubt he was untroubled by the cave-minotaur of conscience, and no doubt, there was no man left to pity him.
Our supreme insights must-and should-sound like follies, in certain cases like crimes, when they come impermissibly to the ears of those who are not predisposed and predestined for them… The virtues of the common man would perhaps indicate vice and weakness in a philosopher; it may be possible that if a lofty type of man degenerated and perished, he would only thus acquire qualities of whose account it would prove necessary in the lower world into which he had sunk henceforth to venerate him as a saint… Books for everybody are always malodorous books: the smell of petty people clings to them. Where the people eats and drinks, even where it worships, there is usually a stink. One should not go into churches if one wants to breathe pure air.
Not much doubt what kind of book(s) Nietzsche is talking about here, and Hitler would no doubt agree. The Christian Bible, and even more so, the Hebrew Bible, bore such a stink in the latter’s mind. Given Nietzsche’s utter contempt for Christianity, it should come as no surprise that he held its values and morals in the lowest possible opinion. Yet, when Hitler actually escaped those morals, rather than merely sneered at them, one must wonder if Nietzsche would have had any idea of what would come of it. In my opinion, he should have seen at least the shadow of
And if there is any doubt about how he felt about standard Judeo-Christian values, consider the following:
There is nothing for it: the feelings of devotion, self-sacrifice for one’s neighbour, the entire morality of self-renunciation must be taken mercilessly to task and brought to court… There is much too much sugar and sorcery in those feelings of ‘for others’, of ‘not for me’, for one not to have to become doubly distrustful here and ask: ‘are these not perhaps-seductions?
I would personally hope that such ideas would be seductive. Sadly, for Hitler, he was not only cautious of them, but openly scornful, though it is hard to see how he could be said to be more scornful of them than was Nietzsche, excepting that he acted on his scorn, rather than merely wrote about it.
The faith such as primitive Christianity demanded and not infrequently obtained in the midst of a sceptical and southerly free-spirited world with a centuries long struggle between philosophical schools behind it and in it, plus the education in tolerance provided by the Imperium Romanum-this faith is not that gruff, true-hearted liegeman’s faith with which a Luther, say, or a Cromwell, or some other northern barbarian of the spirit cleaved to his God and his Christianity; it is rather that faith of Pascal which resembles in a terrible fashion a protracted suicide of reason-of a tough, long-lived, wormlike reason which is not to be killed instantaneously with a single blow. The Christian faith is from the beginning sacrifice: sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of the spirit, at the same time enslavement and self-mockery, self-mutilation. There is cruelty and religious Phoenicianism in this faith exacted of an over-ripe, manifold and much-indulged conscience: its presupposition is that the subjection of the spirit is indescribably painful, that the entire past and habitude of such a spirit resists the absurdissimum which ‘faith’ appears to it to be.
Pg. 71, para. 46
Hitler, no doubt, cheered such language, with devastating consequences. Both he and Nietzsche clearly misunderstood the heart of Christianity equally, but in Hitler’s case, again, the result was catastrophe.
“…he (Hitler) shared with Stalin the same materialist outlook, based on nineteenth-century rationalists’ certainty that the progress of science would destroy all myths and had already proven Christian doctrine to be an absurdity.”
A. Bullock, _Hitler and Stalin_, pg. 386
…he who is only a measly tame domesticated animal and knows only the needs of a domestic animal (like our cultured people of today, the Christians of ‘cultured’ Christianity included-) has no reason to wonder, let alone to sorrow, among those ruins-the taste for the Old Testament is a touchstone in regard to ‘great’ and ‘small’-: perhaps he will find the New Testament, the book of mercy, more after his own heart (there is in it a great deal of the genuine delicate, musty odour of devotee and petty soul). To have glued this New Testament to form a single book, as ‘bible’, as ‘the book of books’: that is perhaps the greatest piece of temerity and ‘sin against the spirit’ that literary
Europehas on its conscience.
BGE pg. 80,
Hitler, no doubt, would not have embraced Nietzsche’s high opinion of the Old Testament, but the latter’s assessment of the New clearly would have won over the dictator’s heart. Thus, if one wonders what set of moral values one should abandon in Nietzsche’s brave new world of morality built on Will, one need look no further than a world without New Testament attachments to self sacrifice and caring for one’s neighbour. The Nazi’s agreed.
The philosopher as we understand him, we free spirits-as the man of the most comprehensive responsibility who has the conscience of the collective evolution of mankind: this philosopher will make use of the religions for his work of education and breeding, just as he will make use of the existing political and economic conditions. The influence on selection and breeding, that is to say the destructive as well as the creative and formative influence which can be exercised with the aid of religions, is manifold and various depending on the kind of men placed under their spell and protection. For the strong and independent prepared and predestined for command, in whom the art and reason of a ruling race is incarnated, religion is one more means of overcoming resistance so as to be able to rule: as a bond that unites together ruler and ruled and betrays and hands over to the former the consciences of the latter, all that is hidden and most intimate in them which would like to exclude itself from obedience… To the majority of ordinary men, finally, the great majority, who exist for the service and general utility and who may exist only for that purpose, religion gives an invaluable contentment with their nature and station, manifold peace of heart, an ennobling of obedience, one piece of joy and sorrow more to share with their fellows, and some transfiguration of the whole everydayness, the whole lowliness, the whole half-bestial poverty of their souls…
This was, for me, one of the most chilling parts of Nietzsche’s entire book. He was talking about Christianity, of course, and its use in keeping the mass of humanity subject to their betters. The problem, of course, is that he teaches as well that the master race need not be bound by such a thing, as they are not made for service, but for dominance. Hitler expected to one day have to destroy Christianity, just as he would Judaism, but he also understood that Nietzsche was right about the need for a religion of some kind for the masses, needed to keep them in line, and thus, he sought to create a new religion around himself.
“Political reasons led Hitler to restrain his anticlericalism and refuse to let himself be drawn into attacking the Church publicly, as Bormann and other Nazis would have liked him to do. But he promised himself that, when the time came, he would settle his account with the priests of both creeds. When he did, he would not be restrained by any judicial scruples.”
_Hitler and Stalin_ pg. 386
Dr. Hans Kerrl, Minister of Church Affairs “The party stands on the basis of Positive Christianity, and Positive Christianity is National Socialism…National Socialism is the doing of God’s will…God’s will reveals itself in German blood…Dr. Zoellner and Count Galen (the Catholic bishop of Muenster) have tried to make clear to me that Christianity consists of faith in Christ as the Son of God. That makes me laugh… No, Christianity is not dependent upon the Apostle’s Creed… True Christianity is represented by the party, and the German people are now called by the party and especially by the Fuehrer to a real Christianity… The Fuehrer is the herald of a new revelation.”
_The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich_ pg. 239
It is hard to imagine Nietzsche disapproving of this proposed agenda.
Inasmuch as ever since there have been human beings there have also been human herds (family groups, communities, tribes, nations, states, churches), and always very many who obey compared with the very small number of those who command-considering that is to say, that hitherto nothing has been practiced and cultivated among men better or longer than obedience… The strange narrowness of human evolution, its hesitations, its delays, its frequent retrogressions and rotations, are due to the fact that the herd instinct of obedience has been inherited best and at the expense of the art of commanding… This state of things actually exists in
Europetoday: I call it the moral hypocrisy of the commanders. They know no way of defending themselves from their bad conscience other than pose as executors of more ancient or higher commands (commands from ancestors, of the constitution, of justice, of the law, or even of God), or even to borrow herd maxims from the herd’s way of thinking and appear as ‘the first servant of the people’… All this notwithstanding, what a blessing, what a release from a burden becoming intolerable, the appearance of an unconditional commander is for this herd animal European, the effect produced by the appearance of Napoleon is almost the history of the higher happiness this entire century has attained in its most valuable men and moments.
BGE, Pg. 121-122,
One might forgive Hitler for placing his name alongside Napoleon’s in this monologue. The masses are the herd, desperate to follow a true master of the new morality, a morality constructed entirely from the will of the master and his tiny band of super men. This too was among the most depressing parts of Nietzsche’s entire book for me personally. To view human beings as mere herd animals, and Napoleon as an example of what we herd-folk should aspire to have (and for the few to be!) is one of the great tragedies of philosophy. To me it is obvious that such a belief system virtually begs for a Hitler to rise over us, and that is the thing Nietzsche himself, in his romantic self delusion, did not appear to see.
Nor did Nietzsche apologize or back away from his view of humanity.
Let us straight away say once more what we have already said a hundred times: for ears today offer such truths-our truths-no ready welcome. We know well enough how offensive it sounds when someone says plainly and without metaphor that man is an animal; but it will be reckoned almost a crime in us that precisely in regard to men of ‘modern ideas’ we constantly employ the terms ‘herd’, ‘herd instinct’, and the like. But what of that! We can do no other: for it is precisely here that our new insight lies…
BGE, Pg. 124,
We, who have a different faith-we, to whom the democratic movement is not merely a form assumed by political organization in decay, but also a form assumed by man in decay, that is to say in diminishment, in process of becoming mediocre and losing his value: wither must we direct our hopes?-Towards new philosophers, we have no other choice; towards spirits strong and original enough to make a start in antithetical evaluations and to revalue and reverse ‘eternal values’; towards heralds and forerunners, towards men of the future who in the present knot together and constraint which compels the will of millennia on to new paths. To teach man the future of man is his will, as dependent on a human will, and to prepare for great enterprises and collective experiments in discipline and breeding so as to make an end of that gruesome dominion of chance and nonsense that has hitherto been called ‘history’… it is the image of such leaders which hovers before our eyes-may I say that aloud, you free spirits?”
BGE, Pg. 126,
I must pause here, and say that it does not look, to me, like Nietzsche is even any longer speaking to the great mass of us in the herd. Rather, to a man like Hitler, it would sound more like the two of them had huddled together and made their plan, knowing full well why it was necessary for them to seek these great goals of the will.
But Nietzsche continues, telling us more about what such a man will be like…
The circumstances one would have in part to create, in part to employ, to bring them into existence; the conjectural paths and tests of virtue of which a should could grow to such height and power it would feel compelled to these tasks: a revaluation of values under whose novel pressure and hammer a conscience would be steeled, a heart transformed to brass, so that it might endure the weight of such a responsibility…
Ibid. Para. 203
Hitler did so steel himself, but we were not ready for him it seems, and so he failed, something Nietzsche himself feared might happen…
…on the other hand, the need for such leaders, the terrible danger they might not appear or might fail or might degenerate-these are our proper cares and concerns, do you know that, you free spirits?... he who has divined the fatality that lies concealed in the idiotic guilelessness and blind confidence of ‘modern ideas’, even more in the whole of Christian-European morality: he suffers from a feeling of anxiety with which no other can be compared-for he comprehends in a single glance all that which, given a favourable accumulation and intensification of forces and tasks, could be cultivated out of man… The collective degeneration of man down to that which the socialist dolts and blockheads today see as their ‘man of the future’-as their ideal!-this degeneration and diminution of man to the perfect herd animal (or as they say, to the man of the ‘free society’), this animalization of man to the pygmy animal of equal rights and equal pretensions is possible, no doubt of that! He who has once thought this possibility through to the end knows one more kind of disgust than other men do-and perhaps, a new task!
Ibid. Para. 203
Hitler clearly knew this disgust, and also the new task that was needed to make certain it did not happen. God save us from such Utopians, both socialist and national socialist, in the future. Hopefully the 20th Century has taught us sufficiently well what it means to put ideas like this into actual practice.
Actual philosophers, however, are commanders and law-givers: they say ‘this shall be!’, it is they who determine the Wherefore and Whither of mankind, and they possess for this task the preliminary work of all the philosophical labourers, of all those who have subdued the past-they reach for the future with creative hand, and everything that is or has been becomes for them a means, an instrument, a hammer. Their ‘knowing’ is creating, their creating is law-giving, their will to truth is –[will to power.- Are there such philosophers today? Have there been such philosophers? Must there not be such philosophers?
Ibid., Pg. 142-143,
Hitler proved that there were, indeed, such philosophers ready to spring themselves upon us at (in)opportune times. May God continue to protect us from such men (and women!) of the future.
Our virtues? –it is probable that we too still have our virtues, although naturally they will not be those square and simple virtues on whose account we hold our grandfathers in high esteem but also hold them of little. We Europeans of the day after tomorrow, we first-born of the twentieth century-with all our dangerous curiousity, our multiplicity and art of disguise, our mellow and as it were, sugared cruelty in spirit and senses- if we are to have virtues we shall presumably have only such virtues as have learned to get along with our most secret and heartfelt inclinations, with our most fervent needs: very well, let us look for them in our labyrinths!
BGE, Pg. 147,
Had Nietzsche looked where Hitler would look, and had he explored those corridors, perhaps he would not have been so brash in his statements. But when will go untroubled by conventional morality, then the monstrosity of Nazism becomes not only possible, but, as it turns out, very, very probable.
It seems that, however little we may think ourselves old-fashioned and grandfatherly-respectable in other respects, in one thing we are none the less worthy grandsons of these grandfathers, we last Europeans with a good conscience: we too still wear their pigtail (of good conscience). –Alas! If only you knew how soon, how very soon, things will be-different!
Ibid. Para. 214
Indeed. And how prophetic, looking back from 1945.
I take little pleasure in this post. In fact, after re-reading Nietzsche again for what was now the third time, I found myself so completely depressed, I sought refuge yet again in the wonder, wit, and wisdom of the great G.K. Chesterton, both in Orthodoxy and in The Everlasting Man. The belief that man was evolving, and indeed, that this evolution could be controlled, be it a Marxian control, or Nietzschean, was the great lie of the 19th Century. It took us the 20th to learn that this was a lie (I hope!). Now it is necessary to remember those lessons, and to apply them. Human beings are not mere herd animals, nor are they cogs in history. We may be a type of animals (in fact, we must be), but we are a unique type, and as such, we are not subject to easy formulas that can shape and mould us into some future superman, or super race, or super society. We are much better than that, but for me to go into what THAT means would require yet another post, and one that would explore, far more deeply, my own personal beliefs, grounded, as I believe them to be, in the ancient faith of Christianity as it actually is, not as its critics believe it to be.