Monday, July 12, 2010

A Chilling Parallel

While Bertrand Russell may have been the one to label Friedrich Nietzsche one of the "philosophical progenitors" of Nazis and Fascists in his History of Western Philosophy (published in 1945), I first encountered the connection between Nietzsche and the Nazis through a far more pedestrian path. Indeed, that path came from an essay entitled "Nietzsche and the Nazis," which, as I recall, was in Harry Golden's collection, Only in America (which happened to be a bar mitzvah present). That essay was compelling enough to persuade me to purchase a copy of The Portable Nietzsche, which I still own even if less authority is attached to Walter Kaufmann's translation now than when he was accepted as one of the prime movers to revive interest in Nietzsche after the Second World War. Nevertheless, notwithstanding Russell's protestations, the Wikipedia entry probably chose the right word in describing any Nazi use of Nietzsche's philosophy as "selective."

On the other hand, when one encounters texts that are so rich in aphorism, can one read them in any way that is not selective? Consider the following sentences from Twilight of the Idols (in Kaufmann's translation):

Almost every party understands how it is in the interest of its own self-preservation that the opposition should not lose all strength; the same is true of power politics. A new creation in particular—the new Reich, for example—needs enemies more than friends: in opposition alone does it feel itself necessary, in opposition alone does it become necessary.

This is a key element in the argument developed in the section entitled "Morality as Anti-Nature;" and one can easily start thinking about National Socialism even before one encounters Kaufmann's decision to leave "Reich" untranslated. Unfortunately, in this new century we can now turn to other political ideologies that appear to have thrived from needing enemies more than friends, the closest example of that ideology being the "New American Century" thinking that assumed such a strong hold on the policies of the Administration of George W. Bush. Indeed, I have gone so far as to suggest that The Project for the New American Century may well have been the key factor through which Dick Cheney became "The Ultimate Weapon of Mass Destruction." Is this not evidence enough of the trouble we can get into through our willful cultural ignorance of history?

No comments: