16 August 2009

Nietzsche and the Nazis

I recently watched Stephen Hicks documentary (or should I say, "filmed lecture") titled Nietzsche and the Nazis on Netflix. It's an interesting film. I agree with the author that Nietzsche provides much of the philosophical groundwork for Fascism. Hicks does point out some areas where Nietzsche's philosophy and words were twisted a bit to fit into the Nazi framework, but by and large, he concludes they're a good fit. A good critique of the film can be found here.

9 comments:

CyberKitten said...

karlo said: I agree with the author that Nietzsche provides much of the philosophical groundwork for Fascism.

I think it's more accurate to say that the Nazi's drew on Nietzsche for some of their inspiration. Nietzsche was certainly neither a Nazi nor a Fascist... though I think his sister was.

karlo said: Hicks does point out some areas where Nietzsche's philosophy and words were twisted a bit to fit into the Nazi framework, but by and large, he concludes they're a good fit.

Not the bits I've read. He was for one thing very critical of the anti-semitic voices in Germany at the time of his writing....

Karlo said...

Nietzsche lived before the Nazis in a different time, so I think the real question is whether his philosophy, when put into practice, leads to something along the lines of Fascism (or could at least be validly interpreted as compatible with Fascism). I don't think the Nazis needed Nietzsche as a basis for anti-Semitism per se, and Nietzsche is all over the place on the issue. On the other hand, I do think that Nietzsche's philosophy makes a wonderful justification for aggressive war and the use of other people (or peoples) in order to create an elite group that can rule the world. Nietzsche says in many places that the superior man is completely justified in exploiting others and using them to his own ends. I think that there's been an attempt to clean up Nietzsche since so many love his radical disdain for conventional morality. I don't think people really understand the direction the ideas go in. Nietzsche's philosophy, instead of making them free, simply means that their skin can be used to make lamp-shades if the supermen feel like that's what they want to do. Hicks provides a pretty good treatment. Unfortunately, he draws attention to certain areas of agreement between the Nazi's and "socialist" collectivism (a la Stalin and Mao), while ignoring some obvious similarities between Nietzsche and the rhetoric of the right. Even so, it's an admirable attempt to elucidate the underlining philosophy. As Hicks insists, the philosophy is, for many people, attractice and will remain so.

CyberKitten said...

Nietzsche's philosophy was certainly used (and most certainly abused) by the Nazi's but I don't think that's any reason to denigrate it. Karl Marx had many good ideas too - but to tar him with the disaster of Soviet Communism and Stalin makes the same mistake.

From what I can tell Nietzsche would have been appalled by the Nazi's and most certainly would not have supported them. Nietzsche's ideas are certainly 'dangerous' in the sense that they can mean all things to all men - especially if you simply ignore the bits you don't like or don't fit in with any particular ideological quirk but I do think that he was a bone fide genius (even if he constantly said so himself!)

As you can probably tell, I'm one of those people who find his thought(s) attractive....

Karlo said...

Personally, I'm disturbed by passages where he says that it's okay for superior people to make use of inferior people. I realize that he rants a great deal, but these statements still remain. I also don't share his evaluation of great civilizations and those great classes of heroes of the past. Basically, the heroes of history tend to be the numerous Hitlers who were simply successful. Rome was a "great civilization" if you happened to be a member of the elite and had slaves catering to your every whim. Most people would have probably been much happier being born pretty much anywhere else. Some of Nietsche's statements are insightful--especially, the need to create values and make choices based on drives coming from the core of our being, but I think his own inner drives were so out of whack that doesn't have much to teach us. And I'm not convinced that he wouldn't have loved the Nazis. Most German intellectuals did, after all.

Brian Schmidt said...

Thanks for the recommendation, I'm added it to my Netflix list. Reading the member reviews there is interesting though - a number of reviewers are taking Cyber's position.

I don't remember enough Nietzsche to comment productively, but I'd agree that people who know him well either love or hate him, and that colors the comments.

One other note - I don't think intellectuals were the backbone of the Nazi, which I think drew more from working class and middle class during the Weimar years. (Of course most intellectuals went along with the Nazis when it became dangerous not to, and probably enthusiastically so during the early victories of WW2.)

Karlo said...

A lot of the key Nazi figures that we read about were highly educated. Hicks claims that the Nazis were pretty much loved by the entire population and were about as popular as any government could be.

Texmom said...

I have not read Nietzsche but found the DVD to be very interesting and in depth.
One thing I would ask Nietzsche if I could is why he thinks humans do have that built-in sense of needing a God or protector. Since he died insane himself, maybe it was God he was missing/denying all along.

Karlo said...

Humans "need" all sorts of things. Some need God; others need gods; others need alcohol or drugs. My guess is that all the distractions are seized upon for a reason--namely, because reality can be a bitter pill to swallow at times. Rather than conclude that human habit forms an argument for God, one could just as easily make an argument for television or loud music as the ultimate salvation of man. My own conclusion is that we should not put much trust in human habit.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a gross misrepresentation of both WWII and the philosophy of Nietzsche. Did Hicks really think anyone would miss his severe downplaying of the role the U.S.S.R. played in defeating the Nazis? I mean it does completely destroy his "collectivism leads to Nazism" argument, but only a hack would leave out a significant historical factor, while making a historical argument, simply because it goes against his thesis. Did he think he could downplay the role of capitalists corporations like Coca-Cola, IBM, and GM that helped support the Nazi regime? And on the subject of Capitalism, Hicks did a great job of ignoring the legacy of exploitation, oppression, mass killings, and suppression of Democracy that is the result of strong, developed States trying to export their Liberal-"Democratic" Capitalist policies on developing countries. When it comes to Nietzsche, Hicks clings to the terrible Walter Kaufman translation/interpretation. The same one that allowed Ayn Rand to pervert Nietzsche's words into "Objectivism." It's interesting that he name drops Rand, Foucault, and Heidegger (a lot), but does nothing to inform the reader of their interpretations of Nietzsche. At the end of the movie Hicks admits that some of his interpretations are contested, but never explains how or why, and certainly never gives a reason why his reading should be valued over anyone else's.

Overall this is a veiled attempt to super-glue Socialism to Fascism, but fails like a sparrow trying to kill a lion.