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)