Following up on an earlier post about Only a God Can Save Us, here in four parts is my 40-minute interview with van Davis about his documentary on philosopher Martin Heidegger and his involvement with National Socialism:
The campaign was mounted despite the arguments that (1) taxes on tobacco were a significant source of income for the German government and (2) the tobacco industry provided thousands of jobs. Political principles were at stake.
The chief anti-smoking activist, one Adolf Hitler, stated that “Nazism might never have triumphed in Germany had he not given up smoking.”
I gave the Nazi anti-smoking campaigns a passing mention in Nietzsche and the Nazis, in the context of discussing the Nazis’ socialization of the body politic, and Proctor has developed the anti-smoking theme in much greater detail.
Baader-Meinhof was a far Left terrorist group, and one of the most violent, killing dozens and maiming more during the 1970s. Its “official” name was Rote Armee Fraktion (”Red Army Faction”). The logo shows a nice big socialist red star with a Heckler Koch submachine gun.
“Auschwitz meant that six million Jews were killed, and thrown on the waste-heap of Europe, for what they were: money Jews. Finance capital and the banks, the hard core of the system of imperialism and capitalism, had turned the hatred of men against money and exploitation, and against the Jews … Anti-Semitism is really a hatred of capitalism.” [Source.]
Which is of course right out of Karl Marx: “What is the profane basis of Judaism? Practical need, self-interest. What is the worldly cult of the Jew? Huckstering. What is his worldly god? Money. Very well: then in emancipating itself from huckstering and money, and thus from real and practical Judaism, our age would emancipate itself.
“As soon as society succeeds in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism—huckstering and its conditions—the Jew becomes impossible … The social emancipation of the Jew is the emancipation of society from Judaism.” [Source: “On the Jewish Question” (1843), in The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 48, 52.]
Which is what Hitler agreed with: “Today I will once more be a prophet. If the international Jewish financiers, inside and outside Europe, succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevisation of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” [Source: Hitler, speaking in the Reichstag on January 30, 1939.]
As did Goebbels, in speaking of “the money pigs of capitalist democracy”: “Money has made slaves of us.” “Money is the curse of mankind. It smothers the seed of everything great and good. Every penny is sticky with sweat and blood.” [Sources: Goebbels, 1929, quoted in Orlow 1969, p. 87 and Goebbels 1929, quoted in Mosse ed., 1966, p. 107.]
[Bonus question: Who said this?
“The worker in a capitalist state—and that is his deepest misfortune—is no longer a living human being, a creator, a maker. He has become a machine. A number, a cog in the machine without sense or understanding. He is alienated from what he produces.”
Answer: Joseph Goebbels, in his 1932 “Those Damned Nazis” pamphlet.]
Hitler was fond of saying, in private, “What luck that men do not think.”
Another significant point of agreement exists between Nietzsche and the Nazis: Both agree that the great conflicts will not be solved rationally, through the processes of discussion, argument, persuasion, or diplomacy. Both Nietzsche and the Nazis are irrationalists in their view of human psychology—and this has important social and political implications.
Think about democracy for a moment. In particular, think about how much confidence in the power of reason that democracy requires. Democracy is a matter of decentralizing political power to individuals by, for example, giving each individual a vote. The assumption of democracy is that individuals have the ability to weigh and judge important matters and cast a responsible vote. The expectation is that members of democracies will have ongoing discussions and arguments about all sorts of issues, and that they will be able to assess the evidence, the arguments and counter-arguments. And they will be able to learn from their mistakes and, when appropriate, change their votes the next time around.
It is not an accident that neither Nietzsche nor the Nazis were advocates of either democracy or reason.
Hitler considered a highly-developed intellect to be a weakness and too much reliance on reason to be a sickness. Germany’s recent problems, he believed, stemmed from too much thinking. “The intellect has grown autocratic, and has become a disease of life.” What Germany required was passion, a storm of emotion arising from deeply rooted instincts and drives: “Only a storm of glowing passion can turn the destinies of nations, but this passion can only be roused by a man who carries it within himself.” Consequently, German training and propaganda were not directed toward presenting facts and arguments but rather to arousing the passions of the masses. Reason, logic, and objectivity were beside the point. “We are not objective, we are German,” said Hans Schemm, the first Nazi Minister of Culture.
Here again there is an important connection to Nietzsche. Nietzsche too sees an opposition between conscious reason and unconscious instinct, and he disparages those who stress rationality—those who engage in what he calls the “ridiculous overestimation and misunderstanding of consciousness.” In his own words, it is “‘Rationality’ against instinct,” and he believes that rationality is the least useful guiding power humans possess. Humans came out of a long evolutionary line that relied on drives and instincts—and those drives and instincts served us well for millennia. Yet men eventually became settled, tamed, and civilized, and they lost something crucial:
“[I]n this new world they no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating, unconscious and infallible drives: they were reduced to thinking, inferring, reckoning, co-ordinating cause and effect, these unfortunate creatures; they were reduced to their ‘consciousness,’ their weakest and most fallible organ!”
Note that Nietzsche says our unconscious drives are infallible, if only we can find them within ourselves again. It is our strongest, most assertive unconscious instinct that we should let rule our lives: “‘instinct’ is of all the kinds of intelligence that have been discovered so far—the most intelligent.”
And on this score, Nietzsche and the Nazis are in agreement: Both are fundamentally irrationalists—they do not think much of the power of reason, and they urge themselves and others to let their strongest passions and instincts well up within them and be released upon the world.
We know that the National Socialists were thoroughly collectivistic and strongly anti-individualistic. For them the relevant groups were the Germanic Aryans—and all the others. Individuals were defined by their group identity, and individuals were seen only as vehicles through which the groups achieved their interests. The Nazis rejected the Western liberal idea that individuals are ends in themselves: to the Nazis individuals were merely servants of the groups to which they belong.
The anti-individualism of the Nazis was most blatant in their treatment of Jews. They did not see Jews as individuals with moral significance and rights—rather they saw members of a group they wished to destroy. This meant, as a matter of policy, that the Nazis were uncaring about the lives of individuals and were willing to kill as many individuals as was necessary to achieve their group’s advantage.
Even within their own group, the Nazis did not see Aryan/Germans fundamentally as individuals. They saw them as members of the Volk, the German people, the group to which they owed service, obedience, and even their lives.
Nietzsche has a reputation for being an individualist. There certainly are individualist elements in Nietzsche’s philosophy, but in my judgment his reputation for individualism is often much overstated.
When we speak of philosophies as being individualist or collectivist, three key points are at issue.
First, we ask: Do individuals shape their own identities—or are their identities created by forces beyond their control? For example, do individuals have the capacity to decide their own beliefs and form their own characters—or are individuals molded and shaped primarily by their biological inheritances or culturally by the groups they are born into and raised by?
Second, we ask: Are individuals ends in themselves, with their own lives and purposes to pursue—or do individuals exist for the sake of something beyond themselves to which they are expected to subordinate their interests?
Third, we ask: Do the decisive events in human life and history occur because individuals, generally exceptional individuals, make them happen—or are the decisive events of history a matter of collective action or larger forces at work?
Let us take the first issue—whether individuals shape themselves significantly or whether they are the product of forces beyond their control. Only in an attenuated way does Nietzsche believe that individuals shape their own characters and destiny—to a great extent he is determinist, believing that individuals are a product of their biological heritage. As he puts it in Beyond Good and Evil, “One cannot erase from the soul of a human being what his ancestors liked most to do and did most constantly.” Any given individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions, are an expression of an underlying set of traits that the individual inherited. Whether one is a sheep or a wolf is a matter of biology—one does not choose or shape oneself significantly—so to that extent it makes no sense to hold individuals responsible for who they are and what they become.
What about the second issue—does Nietzsche believe that individuals are ends in themselves, that they exist for their own sake? Emphatically not. Here I think many casual readings of Nietzsche get him dead wrong. Take an initial obvious point: Nietzsche has nothing but contempt for the vast majority of the population, believing them to be sheep and a disgrace to the dignity of the human species. Their individual lives have no value in themselves. This is Nietzsche’s point in the following quotation, in which he denies explicitly that his philosophy is individualistic: “My philosophy aims at ordering of rank not at an individualistic morality.” Nietzsche believes that most individuals have no right to exist and—more brutally—he asserts that if they were sacrificed or slaughtered that would be an improvement. In Nietzsche’s own words: “mankind in the mass sacrificed to the prosperity of a single stronger species of man—that would be an advance.” And again: “One must learn from war: one must learn to sacrifice many and to take one’s cause seriously enough not to spare men.” It is hard to see as an individualist anyone who sees no value in the lives of the vast majority of individuals. And it is hard to see as an individualist someone who would sacrifice those individuals in the name of improving the species. Improving the species is a collectivist goal, and measuring the value of individuals in terms of their value to the species and sacrificing those who do not measure up—that is textbook collectivism.
This connects directly to the value Nietzsche sees in the few great individuals who crop up in each generation. It is his powerfully poetic rhetoric in speaking of those exceptional individuals that gives Nietzsche his reputation for individualism. But it is important to note that Nietzsche does not see even those exceptional individuals as ends in themselves—and he does not exempt them from the sacrifice either. The point of becoming exceptional is not to advance one’s own life but to improve the human species—in fact to get beyond the human species to a higher species-type: the overman. As Nietzsche says repeatedly, “Not ‘mankind’ but overman is the goal!” Nietzsche’s goal is a collectivist one—to bring about a new, future, higher species of man—overman. This is the significance of his exhortations about the Übermensch, the overman, the superman.
So it seems that for Nietzsche none of us, whether weak or strong, exist for our own sakes. In direct contrast to individualists who believe that individuals’ lives are their own to find and create value within, Nietzsche’s belief is that our lives have value only to the extent we fulfill a goal beyond our lives—the creation of a stronger species. And on that general collectivist end, Nietzsche has an important point in common with the Nazis.
There is also the third sub-issue of individualism—whether the decisive events in human life and history occur because individuals, generally exceptional individuals, make them happen, or whether individuals are pawns of greater historical forces. Here the Nazis’ theory and practice were a combination of both. They believed in and utilized mass-movement politics, seeing their political movement as the vehicle through which a powerful cultural force—the German Volk—was asserting its historical destiny. At the same time, the Nazis held that those powerful historical forces singled out some special individuals to perform special tasks and that destiny spoke through those special individuals. This, at any rate, was Hitler’s firm belief when he made statements such as the following: “I carry out the commands that Providence has laid upon me”; and “No power on earth can shake the German Reich now, Divine Providence has willed it that I carry through the fulfillment of the Germanic task.”
In invoking Divine Providence, Hitler is drawing upon a long philosophical tradition that goes back most famously to the German philosopher Georg Hegel, with his World-Historical Individuals—those individuals such as Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte, who, on Hegel’s view, were vehicles through which the Spiritual forces of history operated. That tradition goes back even further in religious interpretations of history.
Think, for example, of religious prophets. Prophets are special individuals within a religious tradition. The prophet, though, is not special as an individual—he is not an individual who has acquired his powers through his own efforts and who has created his own new and unique vision. Rather the prophet is special only because God has chosen him and because God is speaking through him. The prophet is totally a tool of God—his power comes from God and he is a mouthpiece through which God speaks his message. He is a localized vehicle through which the real force—namely, God—works.
Now let us return to Nietzsche. Nietzsche is an atheist, yet he offers a secular version of the same theory.
Nietzsche’s power force is not religious or spiritual force, but a biological one. His great men—prophets like the Zarathustras who may be among us and those who are to come—are special individuals in whom powerful evolutionary forces have converged to create something remarkable. And those powerful evolutionary forces are working through those Zarathustras to achieve something even more remarkable—the overman. Such exceptional individuals do not develop and use power; power develops and uses those individuals. Individuals are only the tools, the vehicles. This is what Nietzsche is getting at when he says that every “living creature values many things higher than life itself; yet out of this evaluation itself speaks—the will to power.”
Note what Nietzsche is saying the real causal power is: The will to power works through those individuals; it is not that those individuals develop and use power.
There is legitimate controversy among scholars over this interpretation of Nietzsche, but to the extent this interpretation is true it does undermine Nietzsche’s reputation as an individualist and strengthens the claim the Nazis have on him as a philosophical forerunner.
 BGE 264.
 “There is only aristocracy of birth, only aristocracy of blood” (WP 942).
 WP 287. Morality is a social product: it arises “when a greater individual or a collective-individual, for example the society, the state, subjugates all other single ones … and orders them into a unit” (HH 1.99).
32. On Judaism and Christianity: opposite or identical?
One more key difference between Nietzsche and the Nazis is important, and that is their views on Christianity. Nietzsche consistently states that Judaism and Christianity are allies, both stemming from the same source, both advocating a religious ethic that puts the weak, the sick, and the humble first. As with Judaism, Christian morality is a slave morality.
Christianity, he writes, is “a rebellion of everything that crawls on the ground against that which has height.”
The Christians, he writes, “did not know how to love their god except by crucifying man.” And for that great crime against humanity, Nietzsche says: “I condemn Christianity. I raise against the Christian church the most terrible of all accusations that any accuser ever uttered. It is to me the highest of all conceivable corruptions.”
So Christianity does not escape Nietzsche’s wrath, just as the slave morality of the Jews did not escape his wrath—and for the same reason: Christianity is an extension and purification of moral themes first developed within Judaism. In Nietzsche’s own words: “In Christianity, all of Judaism … attains its ultimate mastery as the art of lying in a holy manner. The Christian, the ultima ratio of the lie, is the Jew once more—even three times more.”
This identification of Christianity with Judaism also separates Nietzsche from the Nazis, for the Nazis took great pains to distinguish the Jews and the Christians, condemning Judaism and embracing a generic type of Christianity.
Early in the Nazi Party’s history, in its founding document, the 1920 Program, point 24 states the following: “The party, as such, stands for positive Christianity, without, however, allying itself to any particular denomination. It combats the Jewish-materialistic spirit.”
The use of Christian themes and imagery was prominent in Nazi propaganda throughout the 1920s.
In Joseph Goebbels’s semi-autobiographical novel, the main character Michael is portrayed as a hybrid Christ-figure and German martyr. And in a 1935 interview, Goebbels was so concerned to separate Christianity from Judaism that he went as far as to deny that Jesus was a Jew.
Adolf Hitler argued that the Christians and Jews were fundamentally opposed religions and himself sounded Christian moral themes explicitly in public pronouncements such as this one: “When I came to Berlin a few weeks ago … the luxury, the perversion, the iniquity, the wanton display, and the Jewish materialism disgusted me so thoroughly, that I was almost beside myself. I nearly imagined myself to be Jesus Christ when He came to His Father’s temple and found it taken by the money-changers. I can well imagine how He felt when He seized a whip and scourged them out.”
 A 43.
 Z 2: “On Priests.”
 A 62.
 A 44.
 Hitler 1925, 307.
 Hitler, quoted in Langer, (viewed July 25, 2006). Hitler also claimed: “By warding off the Jews, I struggle for the work of the Lord” (quoted in Lilla 1997, p. 38).