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173 8 Ecce Caesar: Nietzsche’s Imperial Aspirations Daniel W. Conway It is only beginning with me that the earth knows great politics. —Nietzsche, Ecce Homo It is a historical fact that Nietzsche was widely admired by twentiethcentury fascists. Mussolini was an avid disciple of Nietzsche’s teachings and often acknowledged his influence on the development of the fascist philosophy. Hitler, too, was eager to associate his regime with Nietzsche ’s name and reputation. Responding in part to the cloying advances of Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth, Hitler became a patron of the Nietzsche archives and an occasional visitor to Weimar.1 The case for Nietzsche’s direct contributions to the rise and development of European fascism nevertheless remains inconclusive. First of all, he was read neither carefully nor well by Mussolini, and not at all by Hitler.2 Nor was his philosophy studied carefully by the ideologues who supported these leaders and helped formulate their official positions.3 A direct link between Nietzsche and fascism is therefore difficult to establish with certainty. Indeed, the Nietzsche who was enshrined in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany bears only a crude resemblance to the author of the books from which the fascists claimed to derive philosophical inspiration. Second, Nietzsche was openly contemptuous of several elements of fascism that constitute its ideological basis—such as nationalism , tribalism, anti-Semitism, militarism, anti-intellectualism, xenophobia , and isolationism. He explicitly stated on a number of occasions that the future of Europe lay not in the decadent “particularism” favored by the protofascists of his day, but in a pan-Europeanism that 174 䡲 daniel w. conway would collect all races, peoples, and nations within a single, unifying culture. He furthermore complained that the rise of nationalism in Germany would make it nearly impossible for him to cultivate a sympathetic readership in his fatherland for centuries to come (EH, “The Case of Wagner,” 2–4). Finally, the question of direct influence is difficult in general to settle with respect to issues of moral responsibility. Even if we are willing to apportion some measure of blame to a philosopher whose ideas are supposedly enacted by avowed disciples, are we equally willing to do so in the case of his more careless and uninformed followers? Would it not be unfair to assign Nietzsche greater responsibility for what he is said to have claimed than for what his writings in fact support? He was, after all, a prescient critic of the primal animosities that coalesced beneath the thunderhead of fascism. In this light, it is somewhat ironic that he has so often been vilified as the spiritual father of fascism. At the same time, however, it would be wrong to ignore the profound impact of Nietzsche’s philosophy on the rise of fascism.4 He may not have been the father of fascism, but he certainly was in and of the family. As the editors have suggested in their title for this book, Nietzsche might be described more accurately as a godfather of fascism. Although sharply critical of the protofascist movements of his day, he also expressed in his writings a deeper sympathy with a number of their signature dissatisfactions. He is a predecessor whose unreflective prejudices and political naı̈veté meshed neatly with the dark furies that would later breathe life into European fascism. In the indirect expression of these prejudices, Nietzsche’s affinities with fascism became most readily apparent. This means that his influence on the development of fascism in the twentieth century was far more affective than intellectual in nature. Owing to the strength of this prereflective, emotional bond, his readers among the fascists were able to set aside his overt political teachings and identify themselves with the more primal impulses at work in his thought. But there is another, previously overlooked dimension—namely, the imperial aspirations that inform his political thinking—that may help us to chart the continuity of his philosophy with the primal impulses that also gave rise to fascism. Although his imperial aspirations were based on little more than fantasies—he commanded neither the power nor the opportunity to implement his imperial designs—they nevertheless afford us an insight into the prephilosophical prejudices that informed his thinking. I am particularly interested in this chapter to trace Nietzsche’s imperial aspirations to his unabashed admiration for the amoral, self-perpetuating structure of the Roman Empire. This admiration in turn fed his animosity toward the Jews, whom he...


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