Nashville Great Books Discussion Group

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

NIETZSCHE: Beyond Good and Evil (Chapter 8: Peoples and Countries)

Nietzsche wrote Beyond Good and Evil before two world wars devastated much of Europe. It would be interesting to see what his book would have been like if it had been written after the two wars – or even if such a book would have been possible. Much of what he wrote turned out to be prophetic – especially in his native country of Germany. Nietzsche wrote at the end of the 19th century that the collective impression of such future Europeans will probably be that of numerous, talkative, weak-willed, and very handy workmen who REQUIRE a master, a commander, as they require their daily bread…The rise to power of Adolph Hitler would probably have seemed inevitable to Nietzsche. A master will arise when societies try too hard to make “equality” their guiding force. The way Nietzsche put it was that the democratizing of Europe will tend to the production of a type prepared for SLAVERY. Why? Because according to Nietzsche it’s unnatural for men to be equal – much less women. It’s natural for the strong to rule and the weak to serve. To his way of thinking this is the way it should be. Those living in Europe today might counter that the European Union was formed solely as an economic entity. Individual countries still form their own cultures. Germans are still German and the French are still French. They might counter that European culture has transcended Nietzsche’s “Will to Power.” Today’s Europeans no longer want to fight wars and rule over others. They want to live in peace and enjoy the fruits of their economic union via cooperative effort. Nietzsche might reply something like: “Of course you want to live in peace and enjoy the fruits of your labor. That’s because you’re lazy and have a slave mentality. It’s that kind of thinking that has turned Europeans into shop-keepers.”

It’s not that Nietzsche is against nationalistic cultures – as long as those cultures are authentic and produce men fit to rule. But for a culture to form there has to be some underlying glue to hold the whole thing together. It has to be something that defines what a nation stands for and state clearly what it believes in. For the ancient Greeks this would have been The Iliad. For modern Americans it’s The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. What was it for Germans? Nietzsche’s answer is surprising. Nietzsche says that The masterpiece of German prose is therefore with good reason the masterpiece of its greatest preacher: the BIBLE has hitherto been the best German book. Compared with Luther’s Bible, almost everything else is merely ‘literature’—something which has not grown in Germany, and therefore has not taken and does not take root in German hearts, as the Bible has done. The only thing consistent about Nietzsche is his constant inconsistency.

At one point in this same book (#195) Nietzsche calls Jews a people “born for slavery.” In this chapter he writes that The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest, and purest race at present living in Europe; they know how to succeed even under the worst conditions (in fact better than under favorable ones)… owing above all to a resolute faith which does not need to be ashamed before ‘modern ideas.’ It’s hard for the reader to reconcile how the strongest, toughest and purest race can at the same time be a people born for slavery. In this regard Nietzsche often writes like a poet rather than a philosopher. Does he often contradict himself? He might reply: “Yes, but so what? Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. My vision is what counts.” In this sense Nietzsche seems to me more of a poet than a philosopher.


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