Nietzsche and the Nazis,

A Personal View by Stephen Hicks, Ph.D.

DVD, Ockham's Razor Publishing, 2006

Stephen Hicks is a professor of philosophy at Rockford College, Illinois. He originally came to my attention because I saw an interview with him published in an issue of the Institute for Objectivist Studies [since disbanded] newsletter, the "Navigator" [Volume 2 Number 6, February 1999]. I referenced this in a footnote to the essay "Meaning and the Problem of Universals." Since I found Hicks defending the Conceptualism of Ayn Rand, in an "Objectivist" (Randite), publication, I took Hicks to be a follower of Rand, though in the more moderate and reasonable lineage of David Kelley, rather than with the official, apostolic, and heresiological "Objectivism" of Leonard Peikoff.

In Nietzsche and the Nazis, Hicks has produced a handsome 2 hour 45 minute video presentation of the ideology of the Third Reich and the place in it of Friedrich Nietzsche. This is well done and constitutes a significant contribution to history, philosophy of history, and to the evaluation of Nietzsche as a philosopher. Indeed, the importance that Hicks attributes to Philosophy of History is unusual in academic philosophy and marks an important statement in its own right.

The presentation and evaluation has strengths and weaknesses. One weakness is its structure. The first hour and ten minutes contains no mention of Nietzsche whatsoever. For a work whose title leads with the name "Nietzsche," this is peculiar and confusing. In the same way, Hicks' final chapter of the video, "Conclusion: Nazi and Anti-Nazi Philosophies," contains no mention of Nietzsche either. This is even more peculiar since, after just talking about Nietzsche for an hour and a half, we should expect a final lesson about his relationship to the Nazis in the wrap-up. The effect makes the whole project look like a substantial and autonomous examination of Nazi ideology, with a separate and autonomous treatment of Nietzsche simply dropped into the middle of it. It is hard to imagine that this is how the project was produced, but there definitely is a deficiency in the relation of the two parts of the work to each other. This extends to some substantive points.

In the examination of Nazi ideology Hicks is very properly at pains to show that the beliefs held by the Nazis were shared by many Germans, especially well educated, accomplished, and influential German intellectuals. The stereotype that now comforts many people is that the Nazis were ignorant, stupid, and even insane, and that they came to power through deception and force. Hicks has no difficulty citing the support for the Nazis, and for Nazi ideology, among German intellectuals and scientists, including the philosopher Martin Heidegger. Hicks overlooks Gottlob Frege, one of the most important logicians of the 20th century, who, before his death in 1925, already supported the Nazi Party, in part because of its anti-Semitism. Frege wanted Jews separated from other Germans by a visible mark, like the yellow star later used by Hitler. Since Frege's views may not be widely known to people in philosophy who study his contributions to logic, the shock value of mentioning him could have been significant. Since there is now an extended history of Heidegger apologetics, Hicks cannot have the same effect by just mentioning him. Heidegger enthusiasts can simply dismiss Heidegger's membership in the Nazi Party as already addressed and excused by their preferred scholarship. Addressing the truth about Heidegger, however, would have required at least as much time as Hicks' treatment of Nietzsche -- perhaps we can await another video. Hicks also might have mentioned that psychological and intelligence tests were given to Nazi defendants at the Nuremburg War Crime Trials. They tested out both sane and above average intelligence, sometimes considerably so.

Nevertheless, Hicks does a fine job laying out the doctrine of the Nazis and their affinity with the views of many Germans. The Nazis were, to very many, "idealists," much of whose active support came from the young and from both students and faculty in German universities.

When it comes to Nietzsche, the structural disconnect between the Nazi and Nietzsche parts of the presentation is accompanied by a conceptual disconnect. There is really nothing about Nazi ideology that Hicks finds agreeable; but, although he makes a damning case that a great deal in Nietzsche is suited to the Nazis, Hicks does find several points in Nietzsche's philosophy that he evidently supports and where he believes the Nazis got it wrong -- and where Nietzsche would not have supported the Nazis. We may see a bit of a personal agenda here. Hicks is a member of the Friedrich Nietzsche Society and the North American Nietzsche Society. He apparently admires a great deal in Nietzsche and wishes to salvage that from what is otherwise appalling in the man's thought. However, this does somewhat undercut the larger thesis of Nietzsche and the Nazis, which is that the Nazis were not stupid and that Nazi ideology appealed to a larger literate, educated, and informed audience of Germans. If the Nazis and their supporters got Nietzsche wrong on important issues, how intelligent and educated can they have been? Hicks, at the very least, should explain how the Nazi readings of Nietzsche were at least reasonable, and at the time could have had intellectual respectability. Hicks may deal with this to an extent, as he cites the texts supporting Nazi interpretations, but he really doesn't address the issue directly.

On the other hand, I think that Hicks is wrong, and the Nazis correct, on more than one point. There is much less that can be salvaged from Nietzsche than Hicks would like, and the Nazis and their supporters were more faithful to Nietzsche's ideas than he wants to admit. Thus, Hicks lists several points that he characterizes as "Nietzsche against the Nazis." In the first of these, Hicks wants to deny that Nietzsche was a racist, and he accuses of the Nazis of using Nietzsche's phrase, "blond beast," out of context. He says that the term "blond beast" was used in reference to the lion and stood, like the lion, for predators in general. Such predators could be all "noble races," like "the Roman, Arabian, German, Japanese nobility as for the Homeric heroes and the Scandinavian vikings." However, in the same passage from the Genealogy of Morals [Part I §11] with the list of noble races, where Hicks cites the term "blond beast" (blonde Bestie), Nietzsche actually uses the phrase "blond Germanic beast" (der blonden germanischen Bestie) also. A "blond Germanic beast" may be like a lion, but is not literally a lion. The "blond" and "beast" parts are referring to Germans, not to lions. But even if Hicks were right, and in these passages "blond" simply meant the color of lions, there is no doubt that Nietzsche thought of the ancient Germans as blond Aryans, and he thought that the Aryans had conquered the "black-haired...pre-Aryan" population of Europe. In the list of noble races, the Romans, Germans, Homeric heroes, and Vikings all would have been of Aryan lineage for Nietzsche. Only the Arab and Japanese nobility would qualify as from non-Ayran noble races.

Now the presence of Arabs and Japanese does mean that Nietzsche did not think of all "noble races" as necessarily blond and Aryan. But this doesn't change the situation very much. The European case involved the Aryans, who were the last noble race there, and the dark indigenes and Jews, however strong in their own ways, represent no noble instincts. Otherwise Hicks admits that Nietzsche's thinking is genetic and racial, so it really is pointless to accuse of the Nazis of misunderstanding and misusing the term "blond beast," taking it out of context. Hicks himself misses the context, as well as the application of the term to the Germans. The "blond beast" business is a red herring. Nietzsche is a complete racist, just like the Nazis, despite (like the Nazis in World War II, as it happens) allowing that Arab and Japanese nobility might also be "noble races."

This brings us to Hicks' next point, that Nietzsche was not a German nationalist and did not think of his modern Germans as any longer being true Aryans. This is quite right. Nietzsche says, "The subject races are seen to prevail once more, throughout almost all of Europe; in color, shortness of skull, perhaps also in intellectual and social instincts" [The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1956, p.164], and "all racial connection between the old Teutonic tribes [Germanen] and ourselves has been lost" [ibid. p.175]. Nietzsche saw the new German Empire as complacent, Christian, and bourgeois. Nietzsche thought in European terms, and, with the Aryans lost, "the European problem as I understand it: the breeding of a new caste which is to rule Europe" [Beyond Good and Evil, translated by Marianne Cowan, Henry Regnery Company, 1955, p.188]. At the same time, Nietzsche also expresses some uncertainty about the fate of the Aryans:  "...and whether, even physiologically, the Aryan race of conquerors is not doomed?" [The Genealogy of Morals, op.cit. p.164].

Given this mix, the Nazis seem to be reasonably faithful Nietzscheans. While the obviously dark and non-Aryan appearance of Hitler and other Nazi leaders has been used (and referenced by Hicks) as evidence of their obvious stupidity and incoherence (which undercuts the thesis of their intellectual respectability), this would not be a problem for a Nietzsche who would allow the nobility of Arabs and Japanese -- and the practice of the Nazi regime to promote the breeding of blond and physically sound genetic lines, even using Poles and other nationalities officially condemned in general as inferior, with legal prohibitions and requirements, and financial incentives, is exactly what we might expect from Nietzsche. Indeed, the fundamental principle of Nazis ideology, race, and their determination to breed a Master Race (Herren Rasse, "race of masters," in Nietzschean language), made them the only modern state that ever had anything like the intention to address Nietzsche's "European problem." The eugenics movement was popular elsewhere, even in the United States, but it was never the bedrock program of a political movement that came into a dominant position of power -- except in Germany.

The Germany that Nietzsche saw of the 1870's and '80's did not strike him as very promising, though the growth of the German Empire does occasion an interesting comment: "The profound and icy suspicion which the German arouses as soon as he assumes power (we see it happening again today [i.e. 1887]) harks back to the persistent horror with which Europe for many centuries witnessed the raging of the blond Teutonic [germanischen] beast" [ibid. p.175]. This is followed by the previously quoted comment that any racial connection between the ancient Germans and the modern has been lost. Nevertheless, what would Nietzsche's attitude have been to the much more bellicose Germany that developed after his own death in 1900 and which plunged the world into a maelstrom of War in 1914? As Hicks documents well, Nietzsche loved war. Would he have mellowed in the face of a vicious and aggressive Germany? Especially a Germany responding to Nietzsche's own advice? We will never know, but he certainly can have had no objection to it. Nor to Nazi Germany, more barbarous and vicious by far, cutting away much of the conservative clutter of Wilhelmine culture. Thus, while Nietzsche was not enthusiastic about the Germany of his own day, Germany in fact grew into something much more to his taste, in great measure by responding, as no one else did on such a scale, to his critique. The slaughter and massacres effect by the Reich, which now seem the most horrible thing about it, would have, as documented and explained by Hicks himself, been most agreeable to Nietzsche's values.

Hicks continues in an apologetic mode when it comes to anti-Semitism and Nietzsche's attitude towards the Jews. I have discussed this at some length elsewhere. Nietzsche's whole "slave revolt in morals" is an ahistorical fairy tale, and his characterizing of the Jews as "the greatest haters in history" is of itself the essence of anti-Semitism. This is not mitigated by the kinds of "positive" things that Nietzsche says about the Jews, such as (quoted by Hicks) that "the Jews are beyond doubt the strongest, toughest and purest race now living in Europe" and could actually take over Europe if they wanted to. This is itself entirely an anti-Semitic fantasy, since the Jews are neither a race nor "pure" (Russian Jews with red hair, while Yemeni Jews look like Arabs), and were never in any position to "have the ascendency, in fact literally the supremacy, over Europe if they wanted it." This nonsense is cited by Hicks with a straight face, apparently not realizing that it refutes itself as a tribute to the Jews or an apology for Nietzsche.

So why should Hicks embarrass himself with the bogus "blond beast" business and the shameful whitewash of Nietzsche's anti-Semitism? Well, Hicks is a Randite, has no sympathy for religion, and buys in, lock, stock, and barrel, to Nietzsche's "slave revolt in morals" fairy tale. Indeed, Hicks adds to it. Where Nietzsche refers to the conquest and subjugation of Israel and Judah, one is reminded principally of the Roman (i.e. Aryan) conquest, while Hicks states the case principally in reference to the time of Israelite slavery in Egypt, which I do not believe is even mentioned in The Genealogy of Morals. Hicks is trying to help Nietzsche out, but really only makes things worse. Even in the Biblical account, although the Israelites are said to have been morally affected by their slavery, it really is only for a brief period, after which they break out, reform in the desert, and then become invaders and conquerors themselves. At the same time, Hicks should know by now that the Israelites probably would not have really been "slaves" in Egypt at all. They would have been drafted, after living many years unmolested in the Nile Delta, into the standard Egyptian corvée for the new building projects of Ramesses II in the area. This would have been nothing special to Egyptians, but to independent minded foreign settlers it would have seemed like, well, slavery. So, with the help of a charismatic leader, they decamped. Even without the modern perspective, this is not the story of perpetual subjugation offered by Hicks or implied by Nietzsche. Even worse, Nietzsche never, to my knowledge, cites the Egyptians as among the "noble races." If the "slave revolt in morals" occurred when the Israelites were in Egypt, exactly where was the "master morality" against which they were revolting? In truth, the generally peaceful and self-contained Egyptians were not conquering "masters" in Nietzsche's sense.

But this aspect of the matter misses the point anyway. While Hicks appears to endorse Nietzsche's "master" morality and his dismissal of the "slave" morality, he fails to note, and leaves out from the characterizations, that the meaning of morality is indeed the protection of the weak. This is exactly what Nietzsche rejects, and, as we gather elsewhere, Hicks really does not agree with him (citing Kant's "persons as ends in themselves" rule). In the same way, the purpose of Judeo-Christian compassion is charity and care towards all those who cannot care for themselves -- the poor, the sick, the weak, the widow, the orphan, the elderly, the deformed, the crippled, etc. This is wholly admirable, yet it is precisely what Nietzsche rejects utterly and contemptuously. The weak and helpless, to Nietzsche, are there to be plowed under by the rigors of Darwinian evolution, or mercilessly, even cruelly, exploited by the strong (as Hicks admits). We never do gather from Hicks' presentation that he actually disagrees with Nietzsche on this. His complacent attitude thus seems to mirror the similar absence of concern that rather infamously characterizes Ayn Rand ("virtue of selfishness") herself -- some of whose books we can see on the shelves behind Hicks at different points in the video.

The larger falseness of Nietzsche's "slave revolt" theory is that there is nothing unique about Jewish morality. Confucianism, Buddhism, and, for that matter, the Ancient Egyptians, have all seen morality as requiring the protection of the weak and charitable compassion towards them. Confucianism, with the fundamental virtue of "love," , for others, remained hostile towards war throughout its history; and Buddhism positively condemned all killing. Surviving Egyptian literature contains the "Tale of the Eloquent Peasant," who exhorts those in power about their duty to protect the defenseless. None of this has much to do with Nietzsche's ideas about morality and is in fact the opposite of his ideal of the violent, selfish, predatory "blond beast." Nietzsche's selective treatment of the history of ethics displays an irrational animus for Christianity and the Jews -- not objectionable, to be sure, in irrationalist Nietzschean terms, but nothing to recommend it to us, as it is also further evidence of simple anti-Semitism. Unfortunately, one would never know any of this from Nietzsche and the Nazis.

Hicks' final point in "Nietzsche against the Nazis" is that Nietzsche saw no moral difference between Judaism and Christianity, while the Nazis in their public statements did. In the first place, it is hard to know how anyone could take the Nazis seriously as Christians -- unless one simply wants to use the Nazis to smear Christianity. Most Christians would have no difficulty seeing in Adolf Hitler a fair approximation of the Anti-Christ himself. Given the general cynicism of Nazi propaganda -- with Hitler constantly harping on his love for peace and the war-mongering of Churchill -- one may be forgiven such an incredulous reading of Nazi uses of Christianity. Religiously, Naziism was a kind of neo-paganism, much more comfortable with Runic symbols than with Christian. It is the Swastika, not the Cross, on their flags. The "Nazis and the occult" theme still attracts a great deal of popular attention. That Hicks takes Nazis uses of Christian imagery at face value seems disingenuous.

But that is the problem. Hicks is confused enough about morality that he agrees with Nietzsche on the "slave revolt," and this serves to vindicate the influence, which he mentions himself, that Nietzsche had on Ayn Rand. This merely serves to illuminate the failings and oversights of Randite ethics. Nietzsche and the Nazis would be much better if Hicks were not carrying water for the peculiarities of Ayn Rand's own defense of liberalism and capitalism. By apparently agreeing with Nietzsche's denigration of Jewish and Christian compassion and charity, Hicks in truth burdens his case for freedom, democracy, liberalism, and capitalism with a weakness that the enemies of all these, today principally on the Left (but also in Islamic Fascism), have never hesitated to exploit. Politically, leftist rhetoric is still, even in America, much more pervasive and effective than any defense of the free market or private property.

Nevertheless, despite these tendentious weaknesses, and the peculiarity of its structure, Nietzsche and the Nazis is a valuable and, on the whole, impressive work. That Nietzsche was not an individualist and that the Nazis were socialists are points that seriously need arguing against other admirers of Nietzsche, on the former point, and against those who, on the latter point, promote the leftist interpretation of fascism as a form of capitalism. Hicks does this all effectively, even as he performs the valuable historical service of preserving and expounding what the ideology of the Nazi regime actually was, and the reasons why a great many Germans really supported it. We should not forget that the eugenics movement in the United States was not completely discredited until it was obvious what the Nazis had done, faithfully, with such ideas. At the same time, the attraction of Nietzsche for Stephen Hicks himself is evidence for the thesis that intellectually serious people, whether Nazis or not, can believe this stuff.

Friederich Nietzsche (1844-1900)


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