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Nietzsche and the Nazis Essay

The word “Nazi” has been recalled with feelings of regret, fear, horror and the threat of violent crimes throughout human history. However, nothing can conceal or change the reality of the period of Nazi Weltanschauung and its consequences for humanity and culture. It was a deep refreshment of German souls as the Aryan race and a collective movement of intellectuals, writers and social leaders in support of Christian and Protestant society against Jews. Nevertheless, the appealing eccentricity of the growing ideology among anti-Semite writers and thinkers very much attracted the attention of the Nazis. They examined the complex philosophical works of Nietzsche, Hegel, Fichte, Treitschke, and Huston Stewart Chamberlain, and ultimately concluded with the hard philosophy of Nazism, including racist, nationalistic, and anti-Semitic attitudes (Aschheim, 1992, p. 123).

It was not very difficult for Nazis to find a way to utilize many intellectuals’ ideal systems, philosophies and literature as they proceeded in the way that led to the holocaust and racial genocide. For instance, Wagner hated Jews, thus, his operas contained myths, fighting, pagan gods, heroes and demons. As an artist, Wagner had bred the growing hunger of anti-Semitism with his art to a great extent. Besides Wagner, Huston Stewart Chamberlain, the British author who was the composer Richard Wagner’s son-in-law, deeply influenced Hitler with his fundamentally racist text “Foundations of the 19th Century,” and understanding this helps to explain why the Holocaust took place (Harms, 2001).

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Nonetheless, Hegel believed that the state was everything and war was a great purifier. Thus, the idea of restoring the ethical health of people was borrowed from Hegel’s philosophy by the Nazis. On the other hand, politicians like Georg von Sch�nerer, a German nationalist and a strong anti-Semite, and Karl Lueger, the mayor of Vienna, supported Nazi Weltanschauung from the heart by their political policies and notions. However, unlike the other cultural icons Nazis utilized, the relationship between Nietzsche and the Nazis developed in an odd, but widely effective manner.

Nietzsche’s influence as a philosopher and a writer was apparently limited to his closest friends and some intellectuals in Austria, France and Denmark (Canada, 1997). His books were not widely read or considered by publishers. However, after becoming insane by the end of the 1890s, his fame immediately spread around Europe and he became a figure of considerable importance in German history. Macintyre states in his book “The Forgotten Fatherland” (as cited in Canada, 1997) that Nietzsche’s name started to appear in popular German journals and newspapers as well as numerous books, which collectively promoted him as the “philosopher of the time, whose influence is stirring the entire cultural world.”

This shift in the attitude toward Nietzsche and his work was a bit because of the ideological movement from rationalism and empiricism to romanticism during the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, according to Hinton’s “Nietzsche in German Politics and Society” (as cited in Canada, 1997). Consequently, suffering the subjugation of Napoleon as well as witnessing the growing strength of the West, the German population, experiencing a sense of inferiority, attempted to assure itself of its innate superiority by glorifying its history and culture with no doubts, according to the point of view Kohn (as cited in Canada, 1997). At this point, Nietzsche’s mental “death” made him a prime target for this German myth-making project.

Nietzsche and his philosophy’s affiliation with the Nazi movement occurred as a product of the need for raw material to build a new valid consciousness for humanity under the unity of a superior nation. Hitler and other Nazi leaders made use of Nietzschean philosophy wherever possible. In other words, Nietzsche’s philosophy was a “blueprint” for the Nazis’ war, and they took Nietzsche’s logic to drive the atheistic world view to its legitimate conclusion (Krueger, 2001). Nietzschean phrases and themes, such as “lords of the earth, the will to power, herd instinct,” were most often used in public speeches, and written expressions of Nazi leaders, furthermore, appeared even in Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf,” many times. Nietzsche’s open-ended philosophy gave big opportunities to Nazis as a means of support for their war.

For instance, in “The Will to Power,” Nietzsche exclaims (as cited in DeLong, 1959): “A daring and ruler race is building itself up…. The aim should be to prepare a transvaluation of values for a particularly strong kind of man, most highly gifted in intellect and will. This man and the elite around him will become the ‘lords of the earth.'” Ultimately, the idea of superior German nation, the idea of superior individuals – overmans, in other words – as members of that nation and the idea of exerting extreme power over others that were inferior and weak, emerged as the fundamental codes of Nazi culture, and keywords for their aim. Nietzsche played a key role in the development and preservation of the cultural and ideological foundations of the Nazis (Canada, 1997). In short, in terms of political culture, with his peculiarity; Nietzsche had a significant role in German history by having an important effect on the Nazi movement.

As Crane Brinton states (cited in Geib, 2001), Nietzsche called for the superman; Mussolini and Hitler answered the call. Nazis and other anti-Semites perceived Jews as scapegoats in every situation, even for their own personal failings. They never forgave the Jews for possessing “spirit” and money, and named them as underprivileged (Canada, 1997). This notion was very similar to the one that Nietzsche used to describe his overman in “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” (1967): “For that man be delivered from revenge that is for me the bridge to the highest hope and a rainbow after long storms” (127).

At this point, it is clear that, according to the point of view of the Nazis, Nietzsche’s open-ended philosophy was working for them and their goal, while making Nazis’ ideologies concrete and reliable. The Nietzschean overman was the model of the Aryan race, which was destined to conquer other lesser races in the global struggle for racial supremacy (Canada, 1997). Nietzschean “heroic idealism” embodied the virtues of hardness, masculinity, leadership, courage, power, struggle, and the various other characteristics promoted by the Nazis. By introducing the overman to humanity, Nietzsche advised people to challenge themselves, not to live passively. It was a good reason for anti-Semites to take action and responsibility in the way that led toward creating a higher against reproducing a lower.

Having a great willingness to be powerful in order to take possession of the life and destiny of a superior race, Nazis needed the cooperating hand and inspiration of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and Nietzschean themes and phrases, such as “the will to power.” Because Nietzsche cried out for the survival of the strongest, thus, a strong world while building his philosophy and creating the overman, at the same time, he supplied Nazis with a strong argument that they later used to reinforce their ideological system and movement. As Nietzsche exclaimed for the masters and slave morality, anti-Semites perceived themselves as the master of the world, commanding the rest as humiliated slaves.

They treated people other than anti-Semites as dangerous creatures or obstacles threatening the cultural and racial superiority of the Aryan state. By exerting force on them, Nazis kept themselves safe from the misfortune and curse of declining Jews. They stepped forward in every situation that gave them the chance to realize the Nietzschean slogan: “Whatever does not kill me makes me stronger.” Moreover, they preferred war and courage to charity, with the illumination of the Nietzschean phrase, “Ye shall love peace as a means to new wars” (as cited in DeLong, 1959). They fought for years, lived dangerously and tried to become “hard” in terms of the Nietzschean will to power. War against the lower to attain the higher was a kind of ritual for the purpose of the Nazi movement.

Besides all the inner attractive forces of Nietzsche’s philosophy for the Nazis, Nietzsche’s Sister Elizabeth (who was a radical anti-Semite), had a vital influence in the affiliation of Nietzsche and the Nazis. She interpreted everything in Nietzsche’s philosophy as creating a perfect accord with Nazi ideologies and values. In other words, she served Nietzsche’s philosophy on the ideological plates of the Nazi leaders as the main food of their meal. After the death of Nietzsche, Elizabeth took over the control of Nietzschean ideas and themes, and immediately hurled them upon the Jews with ideal appropriations she could succeed in making legitimate.

For instance, as Kaufmann states, Elizabeth published new editions that incorporated her own introductions, which were intended to explain those passages that seemed antagonistic to the pro-German image of Nietzsche she was attempting to create. In many instances, Elisabeth rearranged material and included new passages in her editions of her brother’s work (as cited in Canada, 2001). In short, Elizabeth reflected Nietzsche as a German patriot and a heroic warrior in the Nazi movement (Aschheim, 1992, p. 47-48). After all, Elizabeth Nietzsche became an important icon for the Nazis as both the sister and a wonderful follower of Nietzsche. Rosenberg’s elaborate funeral service for “Zarathustra’s sister” was the best example of Elizabeth Nietzsche’s importance.

On the other hand, anti-Semitism was the mainstay of the Nazi movement, and the structure of the Nazi movement was shaped completely according to the spirit of anti-Semitism. The Nazis built their education and jurisprudence system upon the basis of the Nietzschean philosophy. “Heroic idealism” and “the will to power” were the basic themes of the Nazi education system, where they perceived Nietzsche as their teacher (Aschheim, 1992, p.234). In this way, the objective of education was fairly clear: Nazis wanted to manufacture efficient, clever, and brave soldiers and leaders of tomorrow’s Germany.

Under the direction of Rosenberg, Hitler’s appointed supervisor of German educational activities, along with Bernhard Rust, the Reich Minister of Education, the Nazi educational system was inundated with Nietzschean literature. Parts from such works as “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” “Beyond Good and Evil,” and “The Will to Power” were heavily integrated into the school system as required reading (Aschheim, 1992, p.245). Too much of Nietzschean strong, meaningful, encouraging phrases and slogans like “whatever does not kill me makes me stronger” or “I have a why of living and can put up with any how” were repeated continuously and drawn into the mainstream thought of Nazi youth.

Besides the influence of Nietzschean doctrines in the education system, the jurisprudence and judgment system were inspired by Nietzsche’s philosophy, as well. Hans Frank, the Reich Commissioner for Justice, once commented, “Both personally and objectively, it is of importance to me that Nietzsche of all people has become the mentor of German jurisprudence” (as cited form Macintyre in Canada, 2001) As in the case of education, thoughts and writings of Nietzsche were altered and appropriated to the Nazi’s legal and judicial objectives.

In terms of these, violent punishments of anti-Semites were understood as being advocated in the words of Nietzsche’s philosophy. For instance, having experienced life in the concentration camps of the Nazis, Dr. Victor Frankl asserted (as cited in Geib), “I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.” As it is clear in the preceding quotation, the educational system based on Nietzschean doctrines was inevitably one of the main points of argument for the reasons of genocide and other violent acts committed by Nazis.

Without a question, Nietzsche was perceived by the Nazis as being the intellectual and spiritual pillar of their regime (Canada, 1997). Such a creative policy gave the Nazis an intellectual justification and respectability to their ideology, while being the source of legitimization to their actions as well. Perhaps the most telling explanation of Kohn (as cited in Canada, 1997) concerning the Nazis’ motivation for appropriating Nietzsche, was that the former were attempting to create a mythical continuity in German history that would serve as a means for legitimizing the Nazi Weltanschauung.. As a result, with the great desire of being the biggest power not only in Germany, but also in the rest of the world, the Nazis made use of everything that would serve their purposes. And building upon a philosophical basis of a very appropriable scheme of Nietzsche, Nazis managed to draw their political culture upon vital foundations of one of the turning points of German history.



Aschheim, S. E. (1992). The Nietzsche Legacy in Germany, 1890-1990. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Canada, G. (2001). Nietzsche and the Third Reich. In Nietzsche [online].

Available: http://student.vwc.edu/~phialpha/%5CGreg.html (December 8. 2001).

DeLong, J. B. (1998). William L. Shirer’s Take On The Relationship Between Friedrich Nietzsche and The Nazis. In Nietzsche and Hitler [online].

Available: http://econ161.berkeley.edu/TCEH/Nietzsche.html (December 12, 2001)

Geib, R. J. (2001) Frederick Nietzsche: Religion, Imagery and Politics [online].

Available: http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/nietzsche/nietzsche.html (December 1, 2001).

Harms, W. (2001) Bernard Silberman. In University of Chicago Quantrell Award Winner Bernard Silberman [online].

Available: http://www-news.uchicago.edu/resources/quantrell/silberman.html (December 7, 2001).

Krueger, D. (1997). A Review of Zacharias’s A Shattered Visage: The Real Face of Atheism. In That Colossal Wreck [online].

Available: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/doug_krueger/colossal.html (December 12, 2001).

Nietzsche, F. W. (1967). Thus Spoke Zarathustra. New York: Heritage Press.

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