Nietzsche: A Precursor to Hitler?
by Phillip D. Collins ©, July 12th, 2005
I recently took a college course in the history of philosophy. The instructor, who happens to be an extremely intelligent woman, was going to examine Foucault. I was eager to study Foucault and seized the opportunity. His Marxist proclivities aside, Foucault’s views concerning the carceral system were certainly of merit and valuable to my research. Yet, there was another philosopher on the menu. In the halls of orthodox academia, his reputation precedes him. His name is Friedrich Nietzsche. I prepared myself for what was guaranteed to be yet another exercise in anti-Christian rhetoric.
Enraptured by his vitriolic hatred for Christianity and enshrinement of moral anarchism, academia has consistently defended Friedrich Nietzsche as one of history’s “misunderstood” philosophers. Cribbing from the standard litany of apologetics, many argue that Hitler somehow “misrepresented” or “distorted” Nietzsche’s ideas. Is this genuinely the case? Of course, during their migration from abstraction to tangible enactment, ideas can become contaminated by any number of factors. To be sure, internal contention amongst adherents, the personal idiosyncrasies of individual analysts, and the manifestly unpredictable nature of reality itself makes an idea’s journey towards tangible enactment very problematic.
Yet, was Nietzscheism’s journey toward tangible enactment so bastardized by Hitler that it was virtually unrecognizable? Was Nazism nothing like what Nietzsche had in the mind? Again, only an examination of the delicate segues between abstraction and tangible enactment can answer this question. In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, William Shirer recounts Hitler’s frequent sojourns to the Nietzsche museum in Weimar (100). Commenting on Hitler’s veneration for Nietzsche, Shirer writes:
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? (100)
Indeed, the commonalities are numerous. Perhaps the most damning of these was Nietzsche’s adoration for “the magnificent blonde brute, avidly rampant for spoil and victory” (Shirer 100). While Nietzsche also referred to the “masters” (i.e., noble men, rulers, etc.) as “blond beasts,” this “blond brute” was something different. He was Nietzsche’s superman, the Übermensch (Shirer 100).
Of course, many apologists for Nietzsche argue that the criterion for defining the Übermensch was neither racial nor hereditary. However, Nietzsche frequently espoused eugenical concepts, suggesting that he did invest significant value in race and hereditary. For instance, consider the following social mandate set forth by Nietzsche:
“Society as the trustee of life is responsible to life for every botched life that comes into existence; and as it has to atone for such lives, it ought consequently to make it impossible for them ever to see the light of day: it should in many cases actually prevent the act of procreation, and may, without any regard for rank, descent, or intellect, hold in readiness the most rigorous forms of compulsion and restriction, and, under certain circumstances, have recourse to castration … ‘Thou shalt do no murder,’ is a piece of ingenuous puerility compared with ‘Thou shalt not beget!!!’ … The [unhealthy] must at all costs be eliminated, lest the whole fall to pieces.” (Quoted in Haller 53)
Automatically, the astute reader will recognize the traditional themes of eugenics: Malthusian demands for the prohibition of procreation amongst certain populations and mandates for compulsory sterilization. Nietzsche’s tirade is also replete with contradictions. He asserts that eugenical regimentation should be implemented with no regard for “rank, descent, or intellect.” Simultaneously, he insists that there is an “unhealthy” population that “must at all costs be eliminated.” Why must this population be eugenically expunged? Does Nietzsche fear that such “dysgenics” would interbreed with those of healthier stock? Remember, Nietzsche’s remarks are made in conjunction with procreation, inferring that he believes in some connection between hereditary and the “unhealthy.”
Moreover, Nietzsche’s bestowal of primacy upon the social “whole” betrays his collectivist proclivities. Hitler shared such propensities, as is evidenced by his virtual deification of the collective in Mein Kampf: “The sacrifice of personal existence is necessary to secure the preservation of the species” (no pagination). Sans the racialist emphasis of this statement, these words sound distinctly reminiscent of Marx’s characteristic collectivism. This is no coincidence. In 1933, the Fuehrer candidly admitted to Hermann Rauschning: “the whole of National Socialism is based on Marx” (Martin 239).
The appellation of “communism” comes from the Latin root communis, which means “group” living. Fascism is a derivation of the Italian word fascio, which is translated as “bundle” or “group.” Both fascism and communism are forms of coercive group living, or more succinctly, collectivism. The only substantial difference between the two is fascism’s limited observance of private property rights, which is ostensible at best given its susceptibility to rigid government regulation. Nazism (a variant of fascism) is derivative of Marxism. The historical conflicts between communism and fascism were merely feuds between two socialist totalitarian camps, not two dichotomously related forces. Both tangibly represent the Nietzschean concept of the “human herd,” a societal paradigm that subordinates the individual to the collective. Nietzschean philosophy comprises an ideational continuum binding Hitler, Marx, and other socialist totalitarians.
It is, indeed, paradoxical that Nietzsche harshly criticized socialism. Yet, his ideas harmonized well with Marxism, whether disseminated on the popular level as communism or fascism. In fact, Mussolini, who was a former member of the Italian Communist Party, read Nietzsche extensively. In 1938, Hitler bequeathed a copy of Nietzsche’s Collected Works to Mussolini on the Brenner Pass (Magee 250-51). Although socialism clearly was not the apple of Nietzsche’s eye, its inherent collectivism synchronized very well with the doctrine of the “human herd.”
In addition to the continuity of political and social thought that pervaded totalitarian socialism, Nietzsche also provided a religious component. The infamous declaration, “God is dead,” is but a segue for the introduction of a new god. This god has had numerous manifestations, as is evidenced by the following delineation by W. Warren Wagar:
Nineteenth-and early twentieth-century thought teems with time-bound emergent deities. Scores of thinkers preached some sort of faith in what is potential in time, in place of the traditional Christian and mystical faith in a power outside of time. Hegel’s Weltgeist, Comte’s Humanite, Spencer’s organismic humanity inevitably improving itself by the laws of evolution, Nietzsche’s doctrine of superhumanity, the conception of a finite God given currency by J.S. Mill, Hastings Rashdall, and William James, the vitalism of Bergson and Shaw, the emergent evolutionism of Samuel Alexander and Lloyd Morgan, the theories of divine immanence in the liberal movement in Protestant theology, and du Nouy’s telefinalism–all are exhibits in evidence of the influence chiefly of evolutionary thinking, both before and after Darwin, in Western intellectual history. The faith of progress itself–especially the idea of progress as built into the evolutionary scheme of things–is in every way the psychological equivalent of religion. (Wagar, 106 -07)
Nietzsche’s Ubermensch was but one more link in this ideational chain. The thematic continuity is a religious faith in humanity’s evolutionary ascent towards apotheosis. This is by no means new. This doctrine of transformism dates back nearly 6,000 years, finding its crucible in Mesopotamia. It was the religious doctrine promulgated by the ancient Babylonian and Egyptian Mystery cults. Masonic scholar W.L. Wilmshurst verifies this contention: “This–the evolution of man into superman–was always the purpose of the ancient Mysteries” (Wilmshurst 47; emphasis added). It comes as little surprise that Nietzsche viewed the gods of the Bacchic and Dionysian Mysteries so favorably. They embodied his religious faith in humanity’s emergent deity.
Likewise, Hitler adhered to the religion of apotheosized man. In Hitler Speaks, Hermann Rauschning quotes Hitler as having declared: “Man is becoming God–that is the simple fact. Man is God in the making” (qutd. in Keith 151). In his coming kingdom of deified humanity, the Fuehrer envisioned a caste system where the “god-man” ruled the “mass animal” (Keith 151). This was purely derivative of Nietzsche’s racialist vision for the future. In The Will to Power, Nietzsche declares:
“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'” (qutd. in Shirer 100-01).
Again, Nietzsche is speaking about a specific race. The racialist context is obvious and incontrovertible. Of course, Nietzsche’s prophecy would become central to Hitler’s racialist objectives. Shirer writes:
Such rantings from one of Germany’s most original minds must have struck a responsive chord in Hitler’s littered mind. At any rate he appropriated them for his own–not only the thoughts but the philosopher’s penchant for grotesque exaggeration, and often his own words. “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. (101)
Nietzsche’s apologists argue that the philosopher’s anti-nationalism was irreconcilable with Nazism’s fervent nationalist rhetoric. Indeed, Nietzsche “even toyed with the idea of European union and world government” (Shirer 99). Yet, so did Hitler! In fact, Hitler confessed that his ostensible nationalism was but the means to just such an end:
“I had to encourage ‘national’ feelings for reasons of expediency; but I was already aware that the ‘nation’ idea could only have a temporary value. The day will come when even here in Germany when what is known as ‘nationalism’ will practically have ceased to exist. What will take its place in the world will be a universal society of masters and overlords.” (Qutd. in Keith 151)
So much for Hitler’s nationalism. Adolf was, in actuality, an internationalist and a globalist. What else was the Third Reich but an attempt to establish a form of world government? Hitler was only taking Nietzsche’s philosophy to its logical conclusion: a world oligarchy governed by a supranational elite. Nietzsche was an elitist and his aristocracy was the Übermensch, which represented the pinnacle of evolution. At this evolutionary plateau, superman would “overcome” his own humanity. For both Nietzsche and Hitler, this post-human condition represented godhood.
Inherent in this anti-human belief are Nietzsche’s quasi-Gnostic proclivities. Superman’s triumph over humanity reiterates the Gnostic theme of man as a higher being fettered by a corporeal prison (i.e., the body). Nietzsche’s own bowdlerized version of gnosis (revelatory experience) is the “transvaluation of values” and the enthronement of self as the final moral authority. In a Gnostic context, Nietzsche’s self-deification is analogous to the transformation of man’s sensate being. In a Nietzschean context, Gnosticism’s “immanentized eschaton” becomes the governance of the “lords of the earth.”
Not surprisingly, Hitler shared Nietzsche’s Gnostic proclivities. No doubt, these inclinations were a natural consequence of Hitler’s attendance at Benedictine Abby in Lambach. Adorned by the occult symbol of the swastika, the Abby was little more than a Gnostic Mystery school. The average German who was not interpolated into esoteric culture was incapable of recognizing the semiotic Gnosticism that pervaded the Abby. The Third Reich represented an attempt to “immanentize the eschaton” and tangibly enact Nietzsche’s own quasi-Gnostic kingdom of the Übermensch.
Finally, one must address the anti-Semite issue. Shirer, like many scholars, claims that Nietzsche was never an anti-Semite (99). Yet, Nietzsche considered Christianity as inextricably linked with Judaism and derisively called the Jews a “nation of priests.” Nietzsche’s hatred for the so-called “priestly caste” is well-known, a historical fact evidenced by his own writings. This is highly suspicious, to say the least. If Nietzsche were not an anti-Semite, he certainly did very little to prevent his work from being interpreted as such. Replete with bitter rebukes and accusations leveled directly at the Jewish people, it would be extremely easy for an anti-Semite to find all the justification needed to rationalize the Holocaust.
Academia’s love affair with Nietzsche continues and shows little sign of abating. Yet, a reexamination of Nietzsche’s character and philosophy is long overdue. It is time for Nietzsche enthusiasts to acknowledge the ominous parallels between their idol and one the worst mass murderers of the twentieth century. For some, Nietzsche shall remain a “misunderstood” and “distorted” philosopher. For those who recognize the ideational continuity between Nietzsche and Hitler, the man is little more than a syphilitic proto-fascist.
- Haller, Mark. Eugenics. New Jersey: Rutgers Press, 1963.
- Hitler, Adolf. Mein Kampf. 1925. The Mondo Politico Library.
- Keith, Jim. Casebook on Alternative 3. Lilburn, GA: Illuminet Press, 1994.
- Magee, Bryan. The Great Philosophers: An Introduction to Western Philosophy. London: BBC Books, 1987.
- Martin, Malachi. The Keys of this Blood. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1991.
- Shirer, William. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. 1959. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990.
- Wagar, W. Warren. H.G. Wells and the World State, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1961.
- Wilmshurst, W.L. The Meaning of Masonry. New York: Gramercy, 1980.
About the Author
Phillip D. Collins acted as the editor for The Hidden Face of Terrorism. He has also written articles for Paranoia Magazine, MKzine, News With Views, B.I.P.E.D.: The Official Website of Darwinian Dissent and Conspiracy Archive. He has an Associate of Arts and Science. Currently, he is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Communications at Wright State University. During the course of his seven-year college career, Phillip has studied philosophy, religion, and classic literature. He also co-authored the book, The Ascendancy of the Scientific Dictatorship: An Examination of Epistemic Autocracy, From the 19th to the 21st Century, which is
available online here.