Nihilism’s symptoms [Section 23 of Nietzsche and the Nazis]

[This is Section 23 of Nietzsche and the Nazis.]

23. Nihilism’s symptoms

Most people avoid the issue, sensing that even to raise it would be to enter dangerous territory. They sense that the game might be up for religion, but out of fear they shutter their minds and will themselves to believe that God is still out there somewhere. Life without religion is too scary to contemplate, so they retreat to a safety zone of belief and repeat nervously the formulas they have learned about faith. Now, believes Nietzsche, it is one thing for a medieval peasant to have a simple-minded faith, but for us moderns such a faith has a tinge of dishonesty about it.

Slightly better to Nietzsche, but not much, are the socialists of the nineteenth century.[51] Socialism is on the rise, and many socialists have abandoned the religion of their youth—but only halfway. Most socialists accept that God is dead—but then they are very concerned that the State take God’s place and look after them. The mighty State will provide for us and tell us what to do and protect us against the mean people of the world.

Think of it this way: The Judeo-Christian tradition says this is a world of sin, in which the weak suffer at the hands of the strong; that we should all be selfless and serve God and others, especially the sick and helpless; and that in a future ideal world—heaven—the lion will lay down with lamb, and the inescapable power of God will bring salvation to the meek and judgment to the wicked.

The Marxist socialist tradition says this is a world of evil exploitation, in which the strong take advantage of the weak. But we should all be selfless and sacrifice for the good of others, especially the needy—“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”—and that the forces of history will necessarily bring about a future ideal world ending all harsh competition, empowering the oppressed and eliminating the evil exploiters.

Both religion and socialism thus glorify weakness and need. Both recoil from the world as it is: tough, unequal, harsh. Both flee to an imaginary future realm where they can feel safe. Both say to you: Be a nice boy. Be a good little girl. Share. Feel sorry for the little people. And both desperately seek someone to look after them—whether it be God or the State.

wanderer-above-the-mists-100pxAnd where, asks Nietzsche, are the men of courage? Who is willing to stare into the abyss? Who can stand alone on the icy mountaintop? Who can look a tiger in the eye without flinching?

Such men exist. Every generation produces its occasional magnificent men—sparkling, vital individuals who accept easily that life is tough, unequal, unfair, and who welcome asserting their strength to meet the challenge. Those who have unbending wills against anything the world can throw at them.

But such magnificent human beings are few and far between in the nineteenth century, and Nietzsche wonders why. And he looks back on past cultures where the magnificent men dominated: strength was prized and inequality was a fact of life. Assertiveness and conquest were a source of pride. He names the Japanese feudal nobility as an example, with their samurai code of honor, and the Indian Brahmins who rose and imposed their caste system, the Vikings who raided ruthlessly up and down the European coast, the expansionist Arabs—and of course the awesome Roman Empire.[52]

What explains this stark contrast? Why do some cultures rise to greatness and unabashedly impose their will upon the world—while other cultures seem apologetic and urge upon us a bland conformity?


[51] Z 1:11; TI Skirmishes 34; also 37: “Socialists are decadents.” See also HAH 473: “Socialism is the fanciful younger brother of the almost expired despotism whose heir it wants to be.”

[52] GM, 1:11.


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2 thoughts on “Nihilism’s symptoms [Section 23 of Nietzsche and the Nazis]

  • February 8, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    Great post I really enjoyed your video on Nietzsche and the Nazis. I’ve never seen a work as detailed as yours on Nietzsche and the rise of nazism. However you dont mention enough of heidegger who was one of the main responsibles in linking Nietzsches ideas into an extreme way due to the concept of Dasein in which destiny and achieving the most experience and conquest in a life time is more important than a rational vision of the future, human sustainability in sharing resources and solving problems in a win win environment doesnt count. For me Nietzsche merly open a dangerous door that can be interpreted in many ways and Heidegger just open it completly and jump into its darker side by suporting irrational claims which are more linked to esoteric views of a romantic utopia. What are your views on the symbols chosen by the nazis, the occult approach in praising ideas such as an Aryan people, the use of runes, the importance of the black sun and pagan rituals to create a new religion which wasnt clear enough to identify who were they worshiping. By the way great research.

  • February 10, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Thanks, Dax, for your comments and praise. I agree with you about the importance of Heidegger, though the focus of that documentary was on Nietzsche. For more on Heidegger you might check out this post on “Heidegger, anti-humanism, and the Left” ( and my interview with director Jeffrey Van Davis about his documentary on Heidegger (

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