Influence and reception of Friedrich Nietzsche

Influence and reception of Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche's influence and reception was heterogeneous and may roughly be divided into various chronological periods. Members on both the left and the right-wing tried to appropriate his works quite early. In 1937, Georges Bataille advocated against any instrumentalization of his works, which was by itself opposed to any simple-minded interpretation, much less to a unified ideology granting predominance to one principle above all .

Nietzsche's reception has proved a rather confused and complex affair. Many Germans eventually discovered his appeals for greater individualism and personality development in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but responded to those appeals in diverging ways. He had some following among left-wing Germans in the 1890s; in 1894–95, German conservatives wanted to ban his work as subversive. During the late 19th century Nietzsche's ideas were commonly associated with anarchist movements and appear to have had influence within them, particularly in France and the United States.

By the First World War, however, he had acquired a reputation as a source of right-wing German militarism. The Dreyfus Affair provides another example of his reception: the French anti-semitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfus as "Nietzscheans" .

Perhaps Nietzsche's greatest political legacy lies in his 20th century interpreters, among them Martin Heidegger, Pierre Klossowski, Georges Bataille, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze (and Félix Guattari), and Jacques Derrida. Foucault's later writings, for example, adopt Nietzsche's genealogical method to develop anti-foundationalist theories of power that divide and fragment rather than unite polities (as evinced in the liberal tradition of political theory). Deleuze, arguably the foremost of Nietzsche's interpreters, used the much-maligned 'will to power' thesis in tandem with Marxian notions of commodity surplus and Freudian ideas of desire to articulate concepts such the rhizome and other 'outsides' to state power as traditionally conceived.

Nietzsche and anarchism

During the 19th century, Nietzsche was frequently associated with anarchist movements, in spite of the fact that in his writings he seems to hold a negative view of anarchists. This may be the result of a popular association during this period between his ideas and those of Max Stirner, who wrote a work that proved influential among individualist anarchists. The two men were frequently compared by French "literary anarchists" and anarchist interpretations of Nietzschean ideas appear to have been influential in the United States as well.

Nietzsche and fascists

See also Nietzsche's criticisms of anti-Semitism and nationalism.

Hitler often visited the museum in Weimar on Nietzsche and posed for photos looking intently at the bust of Nietzsche. The Nazi movement found much affinity with Nietzsche's ideas including his attacks against democracy, Christianity and parliamentary governments, his preaching in The will to power where Nietzsche proclaimed the coming of a ruling race that would become the "lords of the earth," his praise of war and the belief in a coming master race and the superman. The Nazis also borrowed Nietzsche's views on women saying 'They belong in the kitchen and their chief role in life is to beget children for German warriors' or as Nietzsche put it 'Man shall be trained for war and woman for the procreation of the warrior, any thing else is folly

The German Nazi Party misrepresented and exploited Nietzsche's work through selective readings. During the interbellum, certain Nazis employed a highly selective reading of Nietzsche's work to advance their ideology, notably Alfred Baeumler in his reading of The Will to Power. The era of Nazi rule (1933 – 1945) saw Nietzsche's writings widely studied in German (and, after 1938, Austrian) schools and universities. Although there exist few — if any — similarities between Nietzsche's political views and Nazism, phrases like "the will to power" became common in Nazi circles. The wide popularity of Nietzsche among Nazis stemmed in part from the endeavors of his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche, the editor of Nietzsche's work after his 1889 breakdown, and an eventual Nazi sympathizer. Moreover, Mazzino Montinari, while editing Nietzsche's posthumous works in the 1960s, found that Förster-Nietzsche, while editing the posthumous fragments making up The Will to Power, had cut extracts, changed their order, added titles of her own invention, included passages of others authors copied by Nietzsche as if they had been written by Nietzsche himself, etc.

Georges Bataille was one of the first to denounce the deliberate misinterpretation of Nietzsche carried out by Nazis, including Bauemler and Alfred Rosenberg. He dedicated in January 1937 an issue of Acéphale, titled "Reparations to Nietzsche," to the theme "Nietzsche and the Fascists. ." There, he called Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche "Elisabeth Judas-Förster," recalling Nietzsche's declaration: "To never frequent anyone whom is involved in this bare-faced fraud concerning races."

Nietzsche and psychoanalysis

The psychologist Carl Jung recognized Nietzsche's importance early on: he held a seminar on Nietzsche's Zarathustra in 1934. According to Ernest Jones, biographer and personal acquaintance of Sigmund Freud, Freud frequently referred to Nietzsche as having "more penetrating knowledge of himself than any man who ever lived or was likely to live". Yet Jones also reports that Freud emphatically denied that Nietzsche's writings influenced his own psychological discoveries. Moreover, Freud took no interest in philosophy while a medical student, forming his opinion about Nietzsche later in life. Feminist Luce Irigaray, who participated in Jacques Lacan's seminars, wrote a book titled Marine Lover: Of Friedrich Nietzsche (1980).

Early 20th-century thinkers

Early twentieth-century thinkers influenced by Nietzsche include: philosophers Martin Heidegger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Theodor Adorno, Georg Brandes, Henri Bergson, Martin Buber, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Michel Foucault, Emil Cioran, Miguel de Unamuno, Lev Shestov, José Ortega y Gasset and Muhammad Iqbal; sociologists Ferdinand Tönnies and Max Weber; historians Fernand Braudel and Paul Veyne, theologian Paul Tillich; novelists Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, André Malraux, André Gide, James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence and Vladimir Bartol; psychologists Sigmund Freud, C. G. Jung, Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Rollo May; poets Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Georg Jünger, and William Butler Yeats; playwrights George Bernard Shaw and Eugene O'Neill; and authors Menno ter Braak, Richard Wright and Jack London. American writer H.L. Mencken avidly read and translated Nietzsche's works and has gained the sobriquet "the American Nietzsche". Nietzsche was declared an anarchist by Emma Goldman, and he influenced other anarchists such as Guy Aldred, Rudolf Rocker, Max Cafard and John Moore.

G. K. Chesterton expressed his contempt for Nietzsche's ideas in this manner:

Thomas Mann's essays mention Nietzsche with respect and even adoration, although one of his final essays, "Nietzsche's Philosophy in the Light of Recent History," looks at his favorite philosopher through the lens of Nazism and World War II and ends up placing Nietzsche at a more critical distance. Many of Nietzsche's ideas, particularly on artists and aesthetics, are incorporated and explored throughout Mann's works. One of the characters in Mann's 1947 novel Doktor Faustus represents Nietzsche fictionally. In 1938 the German existentialist Karl Jaspers wrote the following about the influence of Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard:

Nietzsche after World War II

The appropriation of Nietzsche's work by the Nazis, combined with the rise of analytic philosophy, ensured that British and American academic philosophers would almost completely ignore him until at least 1950. Even George Santayana, an American philosopher whose life and work betray some similarity to Nietzsche's, dismissed Nietzsche in his 1916 Egotism in German Philosophy as a "prophet of Romanticism". Analytic philosophers, if they mentioned Nietzsche at all, characterized him as a literary figure rather than as a philosopher. Nietzsche's present stature in the English-speaking world owes much to the exegetical writings and improved Nietzsche translations by the German-American philosopher Walter Kaufmann.

Nietzsche's influence on continental philosophy increased dramatically after the Second World War, especially among the French intellectual Left and post-structuralists. Jacques Derrida, Jean-Luc Nancy, and Michel Foucault all owe a heavy debt to Nietzsche. Gilles Deleuze and Pierre Klossowski wrote monographs drawing new attention to Nietzsche's work, and a 1972 conference at Cérisy-la-Salle ranks as the most important event in France for a generation's reception of Nietzsche. In Germany interest in Nietzsche was revived from the 1980s onwards, particularly by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, who has devoted several essays to Nietzsche.

In recent years, Nietzsche has also influenced members of the analytical philosophy tradition, such as Bernard Williams in his last finished book, Truth And Truthfulness: An Essay In Genealogy (2002).

Certain recent Nietzschean exegetes have emphasized the more untimely and politically controversial aspects of Nietzsche's philosophy. Works such as Bruce Detwiler's Nietzsche and the Politics of Aristocratic Radicalism (University of Chicago Press, 1990), Fredrick Appel's Nietzsche Contra Democracy (Cornell University Press, 1998), and Domenico Losurdo's Nietzsche, il ribelle aristocratico (Turin: Bollati Boringhieri, 2002) challenge the prevalent liberal interpretive consensus on Nietzsche and assert that Nietzsche's elitism was not merely an aesthetic pose but an ideological attack on the widely held belief in equal rights of the modern West, locating Nietzsche in the conservative-revolutionary tradition.

Further reading


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