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301 14 Critique as Apologetics: Nolte’s Interpretation of Nietzsche Roderick Stackelberg In his recent study of the political reception of Nietzsche in Germany, Steven Aschheim has warned (with particular reference to Walter Kaufmann ) against the kind of intellectual history that tries to discredit particular interpretations of Nietzsche by constructing an essential Nietzsche from which the interpretation in question deviates. Such an essentialist approach, which renders Nietzsche’s legacy “either as a record of deviation from, or as faithful representation of, a prior interpretative construction of the ‘real’ Nietzsche,” cannot do justice to the dynamic diversity of Nietzsche’s actual influence, nor does it illuminate the actual processes through which Nietzsche historically has been appropriated .1 In the postmodernist view, Nietzsche’s philosophy cannot yield a single definitive interpretation. Viewed through different lenses, Nietzschean texts will always take on a multiplicity of meanings. The critical issue for Aschheim is not to pin down what Nietzsche “really” means, but rather to map the ways he has been received and used. It does not get us very far, Aschheim warns, to convict the Nazis of misusing Nietzsche (although he does concede the usefulness of exposing deliberate distortions such as Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche’s erasures and forgeries), because Nietzsche did indisputably serve as a source of inspiration for many Nazis. What needs to be explained is why this was the case and why the Nazis were so easily able to exploit Nietzsche’s philosophy for their purposes. 302 䡲 roderick stackelberg Although he acknowledges that no unmediated, causally direct relationship between Nietzsche and Nazism can be demonstrated, Aschheim finds that Nietzsche remains relevant as a key to explaining national socialism’s attraction to the outmost limits, its arrival at a grotesque novum of human experience. . . . The perception . . . persists that its historical significance resided in its unprecedented transvaluations and boundary-breaking extremities and its emphases on destruction and violent regeneration , health and disease. Nazism in this sense continues to be regarded by many as a politics—however debased and selectively mediated—wrought in the “Great” Nietzschean mode.2 Aschheim cites with approval the thesis of the controversial German historian Ernst Nolte that Nietzsche was the progenitor of the concept of extermination that the Nazis put into practice. Although he is critical of Nolte’s evasive language and apologetic agenda, Aschheim finds Nolte’s interpretation useful in explaining the important function that Nietzsche served in Nazi ideology, especially after 1933: “Nietzsche’s positive quest for life affirmation is linked to his call for the brutal destruction of those life-denying, emancipatory forms responsible for the prevailing decadence and decline of vitality.”3 There is no doubt that many Nazis derived inspiration from Nietzsche , no matter how much they might be proven wrong about Nietzsche ’s intentions. At the same time, it should be noted both that a surprising number of Nazis remained skeptical of Nietzsche’s purposes4 and that many anti-Nazis also drew strength and inspiration from Nietzsche ’s works. The function of Nietzschean texts is not dissimilar to that of the Bible or other religious scriptures, which have also served throughout history to inspire a great variety of actions and beliefs. Aschheim fails to point out, however, that Nolte’s approach is far more essentialist than that of critics like Kaufmann, who deny the legitimacy of linking Nietzsche with the Nazis. Nolte’s interpretation of Nietzsche is based on an intuition of Nietzsche’s “true” purpose and “world-historical” role, not on a close analysis of his works, nor on empirical investigations of the ways in which his works were mediated and received by the Nazis. Influenced by his former mentor Heidegger, Nolte approaches history as a philosopher, seeking not so much to describe historical events as to discern their “inner truths” or “higher truths.” His phenomenological method seeks to understand the internal logic of historical actors and events and frees him from having to provide empirical proofs for his assertions and conjectures.5 critique as apologetics 䡲 303 Nolte’s Historical Project The purpose of Nolte’s tetralogy on the history of modern ideologies6 is to situate German National Socialism in the context of a European and eventually worldwide civil war precipitated by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917. The apologetic possibilities inherent in this interpretative scheme emerged clearly in the Historikerstreit of 1986, in which Nolte deplored the fact that National Socialism had not yet taken its normal place alongside other past events in the public...


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