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66 3 Experiences with Nietzsche Wolfgang Müller-Lauter Nietzsche in the Service of National Socialist Propaganda “Something said briefly can be the fruit of much long thought,” Nietzsche wrote in his Assorted Opinions and Maxims (HH, II:127).1 What is long thought, however, does not disappear into the brief remark as into a result. Rather, what is briefly said must always form the starting point of a long path of reflection. Nietzsche found ever more reason as he grew older to recommend that his texts be read “slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and after, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate eyes and fingers” (D, Preface, 5). Caution and precaution must (also) be understood literally: in his aphoristic books, the aphorisms refer to one another in more or less hidden ways. “One thing is necessary above all . . . , something that has been unlearned most thoroughly nowadays—and therefore it will be some time before my writings are ‘readable’—something for which one has almost to be a cow and in any case not a ‘modern man’: rumination” (GM, Preface, 8). One must, therefore, establish a critical distance between oneself and the seductive immediacy of the impression Nietzsche’s aphorisms make; an effect that he intends as a means of temptation, particularly in the early books. To extract particular sentences or passages and then lash them superficially together in order to produce Nietzsche’s Weltan- experiences with nietzsche 䡲 67 schauung is only the most vulgar way in which he has been intellectually exploited. I first encountered the philosopher in this form—in sentences selected for popular nationalist consumption—as a schoolboy. It was in my home town of Weimar, more than sixty years ago, and in the years before the end of the war I encountered him again and again: at school appeals or in the University during recess, through the flag salutes of the Hitler Youth, later during community service, and at length in my military days, as well. The effect of Nietzsche’s sentence, first heard when I was but a thirteen- or fourteen-year-old pupil at recess (and would afterward hear many more times) was unforgettable: “Praised be what makes hard!” That seemed an appropriate motto for what Adolf Hitler had announced to German youth as the “education of a new man”: he must be “agile as a greyhound, rough like leather, hard as steel.”2 Over the next several years all young people would be bullied by this motto. And those among them who, for whatever reason , found the spirit of the times unsympathetic developed a variety of avoidance strategies, down to the most inconspicuous passive resistance . But the duties derived from that demand could only be imperfectly avoided. “Praise be what makes hard.” The philosopher who wrote those words would have been seen by those outsiders, to whom I myself belonged, as allied with the hostile and threatening side of the propaganda of the day. Two or three years later I attended the Zarathustra reading of a wellknown Dresden actress in the Weimar auditorium, no doubt cosponsored by the Nietzsche archives. There I heard for the first time the passage from which the praise of hardness is taken. The sentence before runs, “Whoever has spared himself much, he is at length offended by his many reprieves.” In this context, that praise makes a great deal of sense, as I thought at the time. When Zarathustra, in the course of his further travels, always must go higher, when he must along the way climb up upon his own head, or clamber out beyond his own heart, this clearly has nothing to do with the inert hardness of steel. The sentence following also shows clearly how the brown-shirted ideologues distorted the meaning of a Nietzsche quotation. It runs: “I do not praise the land where butter and honey—flow” (Z, III “The Wanderer”). The dash before the verb draws attention to Nietzsche’s reservations about an all-too-comfortable life; perhaps one starts to recognize that too great prosperity has its troubling shadow side, as well. But one could ignore the dash, as many authors in those years did. Then the meaning of “flow” is obscured, milk and honey are no longer important, and more than their superfluity is negated. Then the philosopher could be enlisted in support of militaristic slogans of “cannon instead of butter.” As I have also experienced. 68 䡲 wolfgang müller-lauter My distaste for...


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