- Nietzsche’s Futurism
I would like to answer this question about the future of Nietzsche studies with a question about Nietzsche’s studies of the future. From the start of his career, with BT, until the end, with EH, Nietzsche was obsessed with imagining, anticipating, and shaping the future. Why is that? What is it about Nietzsche’s distinctive philosophical orientation that caused him to be so preoccupied in this way?
We Nietzsche scholars have spent considerable time and energy dwelling on his historicist convictions and practices, but very little on his futurist [End Page 253] teachings, hopes, and plans. We have thought a lot about his retrospective gaze into the past—for example, his insights about the ancient Greeks or the early Christians—but not so much about his forward-thinking vision of the future. And yet I think I speak for many when I say that this visionary aspect of his philosophy seems especially interesting and compelling. We are curious about what he means when he points us toward a philosophy of the future. We are fascinated by his alter-ego’s proclamation, set in some future age, that it is time for humankind to create something superhuman beyond itself (Z P:5). We wonder what he has in mind when he tells us that his thought of eternal recurrence will grow into a giant tree casting its shadow over all humans yet to come (KSA 9:11). We want to know more about the new values he says are needed for the future (BGE 211). We are disturbed by the accuracy of his prophesy that under his influence the planet would soon be consumed by apocalyptic wars (EH “Destiny” 1). We are intrigued by his claim that he is a destiny and that he is one of those people who are born posthumously (A P). So why don’t we spend more time discussing all these dazzling invitations to explore his fabulous futurist visions?
One part of the answer, I think, is that some of the worst political leaders in the next few generations did in fact think they were accepting these invitations. Catastrophe ensued. We know, of course, about Heidegger’s bitter reflection that Nietzsche ruined him and caused his grosse Dummheit—that is, the deluded fantasy that he might be able to philosophically lead and harness the National Socialist movement. Steven Aschheim and Hans Sluga have documented the many other distinguished philosophers of that time who threw in their lot with this ressentiment-inspired understanding of Nietzsche’s futurist visions. At the same time, most British and American philosophers saw a close correlation between these visions and the ideological scourge they were hoping to wipe from the earth. So when Nietzsche scholars returned to work, this was the first item on their agenda, to disentangle his philosophy from its odious Nazi associations. Walter Kaufmann’s solution, presented in his 1950 commentary and in his many translations, was to assimilate Nietzsche as closely as possible to the canon of Western philosophy and to highlight his influence on French existentialist thinkers who resisted the Nazis. Much to everyone’s surprise, Kaufmann’s strategy for rehabilitating Nietzsche’s philosophical reputation was incredibly successful, and today we can survey the vast landscape of a scholarly enterprise that is in large part shaped by his intervention and by the legacy of [End Page 254] his students and their intellectual progeny. The problem is that this rescue operation required him to exclude from Nietzsche’s essential thought, or to reinterpret in as innocuous a fashion as possible, all those futurist ideas that had appeared to get his philosophy into so much trouble.
Another part of the answer, I think, has to do with those scholars who were deeply influenced by the anti-metaphysical critiques of Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and the philosophical descendants of these two twentieth-century giants. Their post-theoretical mission was to show that Nietzsche was merely an early practitioner of historical or grammatical deconstruction. Also, let’s not forget those leading thinkers who capitulated to the scientific colonization of philosophy—perhaps prompted, as John McCumber, George Reisch, and others have suggested, by their desire to...