Nietzsche and National Socialism

Nietzsche and National Socialism

Alfred Baeumler

Nietzsche and National Socialism stand on the other side of the traditions of the German bourgeoisie. What does that mean?

The spiritual forces which have formed the German bourgeoisie in the last several centuries have been Pietism, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism. Pietism was the last truly revolutionary religious movement on Lutheran soil. It led men from a hopeless political reality back into their own selves and gathered them together in small private circles. It was a religious individualism which strengthened the inclination toward concern with self, toward psychological analysis and biographical examination. Every apolitical state-alien tendency necessarily had to find support and nourishment in Pietistic Germany.

The wholly different individualism of the Enlightenment also worked in this direction. This individualism was not of a religious-sentimental character. It believed in reason, it was rational, but it was "political" only in that it denied the feudal system; it was unable to erect an enduring political system of its own and was capable only of breaking the path for the economic system of capitalism. Man was viewed as a wholly individual entity, cut off from all original orders and relations, a fictitious person responsible only to himself.

In contrast, Romanticism saw man again in the light of his natural and historical ties. Romanticism opened our eyes to the night, the past, our ancestors, to the mythos and the Volk. The movement that led from Herder to Goerres, to the brothers Grimm, Eichendorff, Arnim, and Savigny, is the only spiritual movement that is still fully alive. It is the only movement with which Nietzsche had to wrestle ....

When we call National Socialism a world view we mean that not only the bourgeois parties but also their ideologies have been annihilated. Only ill-willed persons could maintain that everything that has been created by the past must now be negated. Rather, we mean that we have entered into a new relationship with our past, that our view has been cleared for what was truly forceful in this past but which had been clouded by bourgeois ideology. In a word, we have discovered new possibilities for understanding the essence of German existence. Precisely in this Nietzsche has preceded us. We hold a view of Romanticism that is different from his. But his most personal and lonely possession, the negation of bourgeois ideology as a whole, has today become the property of a generation.

The foundations of Christian morality -- religious individualism, a guilty conscience, meekness, concern for the eternal salvation of the soul -- all are absolutely foreign to Nietzsche. He revolts against the concept of repentance: "I do not like this kind of cowardice about one's own action; one should not leave one's own self in the lurch before the assault of unexpected disgrace and vexation. Rather, an extreme pride is in order here. For, finally, what is the use! No deed can be undone by repentance."

What he means here is not a reduction of responsibility, but rather its intensification. Here speaks the man who knows how much courage, how much pride, is necessary to maintain himself in the face of Fate. Out of his amor fati Nietzsche spoke contemptuously about Christianity with its "perspective of salvation." As a Nordic man he never understood for what purpose he should be "redeemed." The Mediterranean religion of salvation is alien to and far removed from his Nordic attitude. He can understand man only as a warrior against Fate. A mode of thought which sees struggle and work only as a penance appears incomprehensible to him. "Our real life is a false, apostatic, and sinful existence, a penalty existence." Sorrow, battle, work, death, are merely taken as objections to life. "Man as innocent, idle, immortal, happy -- this concept of 'highest desirability' especially must be criticized." Nietzsche turns passionately upon the monastic vita contemplativa, against Augustine's "Sabbath of all Sabbaths." He praises Luther for having made an end of the vita contemplativa. The Nordic melody of strife and labor sounds strong and clear here. The accent with which we pronounce these words today we heard from Nietzsche for the first time.

We call Nietzsche the philosopher of heroism. But that is only a half-truth if we do not regard him at the same time as the philosopher of activism. He considered himself the world-historical counterpart to Plato. "Works" result not from the desire for display, not from the acknowledgment of "extramundane" values, but from practice, from the ever repeated deed. Nietzsche employs a famous antithesis to make this clear: "First and above all there is the work. And that means training, training, training! The accompanying faith will come by itself -- of that you can be certain." Nietzsche opposes the Christian proscription of the political sphere, of the sphere of action altogether, with the thesis that also overcame the contrast between Catholicism and Protestantism (work and faith): "One has to train oneself not in the strengthening of value feelings, but in action; one has to know how to do something." In this way he re-established the purity of the sphere of action, of the political sphere.

Nietzsche's "values" have nothing to do with the Beyond, and therefore cannot be petrified into dogma. In ourselves, through us, they rise struggling to the surface; they exist only as long as we make ourselves responsible for them. When Nietzsche warns, "Be true to the Earth!" he reminds us of the idea that is rooted in our strength but does not hope for "realization" in a distant Beyond. It is not enough to point out the "this-worldly" character of Nietzsche's values if one at the same time does not want to refute the notion that values are "realized" by action. Something inferior is always attached to the "realization" of given values whether these values are of a mundane or extramundane character ....

Nietzsche's Nordic and soldierly valuation opposes that of the Mediterranean world and that of the priests. His critique of religion is a criticism of the priest, and arises from the point of view of the warrior, since Nietzsche demonstrates that even the origin of religion lies in the realm of power. This explains the fateful contradiction in a morality based on the Christian religion. "To secure the rule of moral values, all kinds of unmoral forces and passions have to be enlisted. The development of moral values is the work of unmoral passions and considerations." Morality, therefore, is the creation of unmorality. "How to bring virtue to rule: This treatise deals with the great politics of virtue." It teaches for the first time "that one cannot bring about the reign of virtue by the same means used to establish any kind of rule, least of all through virtue." "One has to be very unmoral to make morality through deeds." Nietzsche replaces the bourgeois moral philosophy with the philosophy of the will to power -- in other words with the philosophy of politics. If in doing so he becomes the apologist for the "unconscious," this "unconscious" is not to be understood in terms of depth pyschology. Here the concern is not with the instinctive and unconscious drives of an individual. Rather, "unconscious" here means "perfect" and "able." And beyond that, "unconscious" also means life as such, the organism, the "great reason" of the body.

Consciousness is only a tool, a detail in the totality of life. In opposition to the philosophy of the conscious, Nietzsche asserts the aristocracy of nature. But for thousands of years a life-weary morality has opposed the aristocracy of the strong and healthy. Like National Socialism, Nietzsche sees in the state, in society, the "great mandatary of life," responsible for each life's failure to life itself. "The species requires the extinction of the misfits, weaklings, and degenerates: but Christianity as a conserving force appeals especially to them." Here we encounter the basic contradiction: whether one proceeds from a natural life context or from an equality of individual souls before God. Ultimately the ideal of democratic equality rests upon the latter assumption. The former contains the foundations of a new policy. It takes unexcelled boldness to base a state upon the race. A new order of things is the natural consequence. It is this order which Nietzsche undertook to establish in opposition to the existing one.

In the face of the overpowering strength of the race, what happens to the individual? He returns -- as a single member in a community. The herd instinct is basically altogether different from the instinct of an "aristocratic society," composed of strong, natural men who do not permit their basic instincts to languish in favor of a mediocre average -- men who know how to curb and control their passions instead of weakening or negating them. This again must not be understood from an individualistic point of view. For a long time emotions will have to be kept under "tyrannical" control. This can be done only by one community, one race, one people ....

If there ever was a truly German expression, it is this: One must have the need to be strong, otherwise one never will be. We Germans know what it means to maintain ourselves against all opposition. We understand the "will to power" -- even if in an altogether different manner than our enemies assume. Even in this connection, Nietzsche has supplied the deepest meaning: "We Germans demand something from ourselves that nobody expected from us -- we want more."

If today we see German youth on the march under the banner of the swastika, we are reminded of Nietzsche's "untimely meditations" in which this youth was appealed to for the first time. It is our greatest hope that the state today is wide open to our youth. And if today we shout "Heil Hitler!" to this youth, at the same time we are also hailing Nietzsche.


From Alfred Baeumler, Studien zur deutschen Geistesgeschichte (Berlin: Junker und Duennnhaupt Verlag, 1937), pp. 283-285, 288-294.