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144 7 Between the Cross and the Swastika: A Nietzschean Perspective Robert S. Wistrich Friedrich Nietzsche was one of the great intellectual iconoclasts of the nineteenth century. In some respects more radical than even Marx or Freud, this descendant of generations of German Protestant pastors became perhaps the most implacable foe of Christianity in modern times. Hence a full reckoning with his thought would ultimately involve a serious examination of the entire Christian heritage of the West. Our purpose is, however, more limited—it is to focus on Nietzsche’s attitude toward Jews, Judaism, and anti-Semitism in the light of the Holocaust and the often repeated charge that he was one of the philosophical godfathers of fascism. This accusation has been made even by those who may sometimes concede that he anticipated with the clarity of a prophet the morality of the new age ahead.1 Nonetheless, they insist on a causal connection between his visionary thought and the genocidal project of the Third Reich. While I believe that this guilt by association involves a serious, not to say scandalous, injustice to Nietzsche’s work and intentions , it cannot be dismissed out of hand. To answer the charge we need to analyze aspects of Nietzsche’s biography, including his views about the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity and his attitude toward contemporary Germans and Jews and toward the rise of anti-Semitism in his own lifetime—as well as to consider those elements in his philosophy that were compatible (or otherwise) with fascism and Nazism. We must remember, too, that Nietzsche’s voice was often delib- the cross and the swastika 䡲 145 erately prophetic in tone, his writings were at times even apocalyptic in their resonance (e.g., The Twilight of the Idols and The Antichrist), with all of the puzzling strands of obscurity, enigma, and paradox that frequently accompany such dramatic modes of utterance. In Ecce Homo— written in 1888, the last and the most productive year of his intellectual life (shortly before the onset of insanity)—it seemed as if he had a frantic premonition of his fate: “The memory of something dreadful will be linked with my name, of an unparalleled crisis. . . . I am no man; I am dynamite.” In the same text, Nietzsche envisages terrible political convulsions and disasters, cryptically warning his readers, “There will be wars such as never were on earth. Only after me will there be high politics on earth.” On 18 October 1888 he writes to his friend Franz Overbeck from Turin that he was now “moving against the Germans on all fronts; you’ll have no cause to complain about ambiguity. This irresponsible race, which has on its conscience all of our civilization’s great disasters, and which at every decisive moment of history had ‘something else in mind’—today has in mind ‘The Reich.’ . . . [T]here has never been a more crucial moment in history—but who’d be expected to know that?”2 Yet despite Nietzsche’s palpable revulsion from the national vanities and bombastic pomposity of the new united Germany, after his death in 1900 he was to be rapidly converted by some of his right-wing völkisch disciples into an advocate of German imperialism, militarism, and great power politics.3 To some extent, as we shall see, this was a shameless manipulation of his legacy. At the same time, there was also something elusive in Nietzsche’s fragmented, diffuse, and lyrical oeuvre— experimental in method, aphoristic in style, and anti-systematic in nature—that laid itself open to such uses and abuses, to multiple and opposed interpretations, not to say misappropriations; so much so, that it often seems difficult to ascertain who the “real” Nietzsche was or if such a person actually existed. His life and work appears in retrospect like a battlefield of contending polarities—suspended between the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses, between and beyond good and evil, or the “master” and “slave” moralities—those antitheses he harbored within his soul until the twilight of madness descended upon him in 1889, leaving the final verdict to the care of posterity. For some, he will be primarily remembered as the atheistic philosopher of nihilism, who first pronounced that “God is dead” (by which he meant the nineteenthcentury “Christian God”); as the Antichrist who came to reevaluate all values (the notorious Umwertung aller Werte)—the first moralist of what has been called a post-God society. For others, including some postmodernists, this lyrical...


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