Chapter 2: Nietzsche and the Unpolitical
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c h a p t e r 2 Nietzsche and the Unpolitical Wagner’s music is anti-Goethe. In fact, Goethe is missing in German music as he is in German politics. Friedrich Nietzsche, Posthumous Fragments, Spring 1888 The most authentic reactionary thinking of the German crisis remarked with sound intuition its own distance from the ‘‘political’’ Nietzsche. In August 1918, in reply to the accusations of ‘‘allied Zivilisation’’ against the Kultur of Deutschtum and its ‘‘presumed advocacy of violence,’’ Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorf wrote, ‘‘And finally, Nietzsche. It just makes us smile to see pitted against the advocates of the power of our State one of those individual anarchists who can afford to negate the social order precisely because he is protected by this society squarely set within the order of the State. After all, if one looks at Nietzsche’s precursors one will not find Germans, but French moralists and Greek cynics. Treitschke’s conception of the world and Nietzsche’s are worlds apart.’’1 Between the ‘‘spirit of 1914’’—in all its academic variations, from Wilamowitz on one hand to Troeltsch or Meinecke on the other—and Nietzsche, the critic of Wilhelmine Sekurität (that is, the outcome of that Prussian militarism and nationalism that believed to have been called ‘‘to lead the history of Humanity ’’), the clash is head-on.2 The ‘‘great reaction’’ understands Nietzsche ’s uselessness within its cultural-political project. Its philology is too good to translate Will to Power (Wille zur Macht) into Waiting for the Leader (Führererwartung), and to aestheticize Nietzsche’s political as völkisch. To this aestheticization—the virile power of Deutschtum opposed to European PAGE 92 92 ................. 17190$ $CH2 03-20-09 13:47:00 PS 93 Nietzsche and the Unpolitical decadence, to the ‘‘decline of the West’’ the definitive answer came from Thomas Mann in 1918, in his Reflections of a Nonpolitical Man.3 In Mann, Nietzsche becomes the center of German Kultur precisely because he is unpolitical. ‘‘The spiritual conversion of Germany to politics ’’ (Reflections, 18) constitutes the process against which Nietzsche testi- fies to the authentic German destiny. Thomas Mann’s hatred for any aestheticization and politicization of Nietzsche finds here, therefore, its essential motives: Nietzsche is the unpolitical, but this unpolitical is the spiritual power of Germany itself. Therefore, Nietzsche belongs to the heart of Germany. The whole book is but the development of this one theme: Nietzsche read according to Theodor Storm’s ‘‘renunciation’’ (Entsagung ) (Reflections, 74), educated to the pessimistic German and bürgerlich ethics of Schopenhauer and Wagner, belonging to the Humanität of the classical-romantic period, of the German Bildung (Reflections, 85, 90).4 The entire German nineteenth century is interpreted according to the schemes of the myth of Weimar: a relation of sacred continuity links the Goethe of that myth to the heroic Nietzsche for his being unpolitical, for being absolute and paradoxical in his ethical pathos (Reflections, 104). His figure undermines the utopias of Troeltsch and Meinecke. The era of Goethe (the Goethezeit) no longer expresses the alliance of spirit and power, ‘‘German spirituality widespread as the world, and solid Prussian state,’’ rather the absolute superpoliticality and nonpoliticality of that spirit.5 The spirit, insofar as it is bürgerlich and German, is essentially Kultur. Kultur is Weltbürgertum, cosmopolitanism; it is the expression, that is, of the substance of Bürgertum, universal substance opposed to the Latin concept of the bourgeoisie. The essential meaning of Weltbürgertum rests therefore on the concept of the unpolitical. Mann sees war itself, differently from those other greats of the liberal-conservative tradition, as a clash between the affirmation of this idea of Weltbürgertum (not of the synthesis of spirit and power!) and the affirmation of political civilization controlled by the bourgeoisie. The German mission consists in affirming the power of the unpolitical, and in this consists its supra-Germanity. This Mannian interpretation of Nietzsche, however, so contrary to the myths of the ‘‘spirit of 1914,’’ to the vision of German Bildung typical of the latter, so fiercely opposed to the Nietzschean popularization of reactionary Deutschtum, follows the same historicist method that it questions in many of its single assertions. A deep, strong continuity sustains German history from its classical era—but even before: from the age of the German cities, of the German Hanseatic League, of a Wagnerian Nuremberg more PAGE 93 ................. 17190$ $CH2 03-20-09...


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