Conflict of groups [Section 35 of Nietzsche and the Nazis]

[This is Section 35 of Nietzsche and the Nazis.]

35. Conflict of groups

nn-front-cover-thumbA second major point of agreement between Nietzsche and the Nazis is their view of conflict. For both, conflict is the fundamental human reality. Both believe firmly that life is a matter of some individuals and groups gaining at the expense of others.

The Nazis were clear about this in theory and practice. They did not believe it possible for Aryans and Jews to live in harmony. Nor did the Nazis believe that Germany could live in harmony with the liberal capitalist nations of the West.

In the liberal capitalist nations, by contrast, many economists and politicians had come to believe that conflict and war may become a thing of the past. The productive power of the Industrial Revolution was creating great wealth and surpluses, and those surpluses were leading to increased trade between nations that was mutually beneficial. Trade was a powerful harmonizing force, leading nations to want to do business with each other rather than make war.[115]

The Nazis rejected that view and argued that recent economic history was a matter of the Jews and the capitalists advancing their interests at the expense of Germany’s.

Nietzsche shares wholly with the Nazis the general point about zero-sum conflict. In his words, “The well-being of the majority and the well-being of the few are opposite viewpoints of value.”[116] But even more strongly, he believes that this conflict is not merely a matter of historical and cultural accident but is built into the requirements of life:

“Here one must think profoundly to the very basis and resist all sentimental weakness: life itself is essentially appropriation, injury, conquest of the strange and weak, suppression, severity, obtrusion of peculiar forms, incorporation and at the least, putting it mildest, exploitation.”[117]

The horse eats the grass; the lion kills the horse; the man rides the horse and kills the lion. Life is an ongoing struggle between strong and weak, predator and prey. Cooperation and trade are possible, but they are superficial interludes between more fundamental animal facts about life. As Nietzsche again puts it: “‘Life always lives at the expense of other life’—he who does not grasp this has not taken even the first step toward honesty with himself.”[118]

On this key point, Nietzsche and the Nazis agree.

Given that conflict is inescapable, the next question is: How will the conflicts be resolved?


[115] For example, the great British politician Richard Cobden argued that commerce is “the grand panacea, which, like a beneficent medical discovery, will serve to inoculate with the healthy and saving taste for civilization all the nations of the world” (Cobden 1903, p. 36). Consider also Norman Angell, speaking to the Institute of Bankers in London on January 17, 1912, on “The Influence of Banking on International Relations”: “commercial interdependence, which is the special mark of banking as it is the mark of no other profession or trade in quite the same degree—the fact that the interest and solvency of one is bound up with the interest and solvency of many; that there must be confidence in the due fulfillment of mutual obligation, or whole sections of the edifice crumble, is surely doing a great deal to demonstrate that morality after all is not founded upon self-sacrifice, but upon enlightened self-interest, a clearer and more complete understanding of all the ties that bind us the one to the other. And such clearer understanding is bound to improve, not merely the relationship of one group to another, but the relationship of all men to all other men, to create a consciousness which must make for more efficient human co-operation, a better human society” (quoted in Keegan 1999, pp. 11-12).

[116] GM, end of First Essay note.

[117] BGE 259.

[118] WP 369.


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