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215 10 The Elisabeth Legend: The Cleansing of Nietzsche and the Sullying of His Sister Robert C. Holub At the close of the World War II it was common knowledge in the Western world that Nietzsche was a precursor of fascism. Although in the Third Reich there were several voices who sought to disclaim his philosophical legacy, or who at least believed that significant portions of his writings were useless for National Socialism,1 most German writers and propagandists embraced Nietzsche as one of their own. Steven Aschheim points out the extent of Nietzsche’s assimilation into Nazi thought and institutions, “the dense and broad diffusion through which suitably adapted Nietzschean notions became a differentiated and integral part of Nazi self-definition.”2 Not only was he a favorite of chief National Socialist ideologues and academics like Alfred Rosenberg and Alfred Bäumler; Nietzschean themes and thoughts pervaded almost every aspect of daily life, from education and law, to policies on eugenics and race, to simple life wisdom. Once the war started, military propaganda also found it easy to adapt Nietzsche for bellicose purposes . During World War I, when Nietzsche was hardly considered the official spokesperson for the Second Empire, Zarathustra had been distributed to 150,000 soldiers in a special, durable edition. In World War II, when Nietzsche was considered the prophet of the Nazi revolution, his works became indispensable for the military. Typical in this regard was a 1941 Kröner Pocketbook edition entitled “Sword of the Spirit” (“Schwert des Geistes”), which contained excerpts from Nietzsche’s 216 䡲 robert c. holub work and which was written for “German fighters and soldiers.” The editor Joachim Schondorff, in his brief introduction, compares Nietzsche to the fresh breeze [Tauwind]—an allusion to a passage from Zarathustra—since Nietzsche was “a young, revolutionary, clarifying spring storm” who, like Adolf Hitler in his day, swept away the rotten construction of traditional prejudices and false ideals.3 Most foreign observers as well were ready to believe that Nietzsche was implicated in National Socialism. During World War I, when Nietzsche reached the zenith of his initial period of popularity, French and British intellectuals indicted him for the nationalist and imperialist interpretations of his work. The West was thus already predisposed to regard Nietzsche as a forerunner of Hitler when hostilities broke out in 1939. Writing in the series “Makers of Modern Europe,” Crane Brinton captured well the reputation Nietzsche had even in academic circles during the early forties. Brinton concedes that there are many ways in which Nietzsche can be and had been interpreted. He dissects Nietzsche devotees into two groups: the “gentle Nietzscheans,” who tend to downplay the more belligerent and reprehensible passages in Nietzsche’s writings, and the “tough Nietzscheans,” who revel in the rhetorical flourishes about the superman, war, struggle, and overcoming. Although Brinton recognizes that much in Nietzsche’s works does not suit Nazi purposes, he concludes that there is a great deal more that corresponds nicely to their propaganda: Nietzsche, then, fits into National Socialist needs both in what he damned and in what he praised. He damned democracy, pacifism, individualism, Christianity, humanitarianism, both as abstract ideals and as, in some vague way, actual descriptions of modern European society. He praised authority, racial purity, the warrior spirit and practice, and the stern life and the great health, and urged upon his fellow-citizens a complete break with their old bad habits and ideas.4 There were, of course, still many “gentle Nietzscheans” in the 1930s and 1940s; but from 1933–45 the image propagated by the “tough Nietzscheans” appears to have held the upper hand in Germany and increasingly throughout the world. During the postwar period Nietzsche’s reputation was thus in desperate need of repair, and it was not long before supporters inside and outside of Germany rushed to his defense. Nietzsche had had many antifascist adherents, of course, even during the period when he was generally accepted by the Western intellectual world as a proto-Nazi. Thomas Mann, Theodor Adorno, Karl Löwith, and a host of other German émigrés actively combated the image propagated by tough Nietz- the elisabeth legend 䡲 217 scheans of the fascist and antifascist camps. But if Nietzsche was going to be purged of his fascistoid image, there had to be some explanation for how he had been recruited so readily for such nefarious purposes. Above all, scholars would have to provide plausible arguments for the falsity of...


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