Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Book Review: Nietzsche And The Nazis

Nietzsche And The Nazis
Stephen R. C. Hicks
Ockham’s Razor Publishing 

In Nietzsche And The Nazis, Stephen Hicks meticulously exposes some of the common misconceptions about the Nazis.

He rejects the idea that the Nazis were a group of deranged people who lucked or manipulated their way into political power. Millions of voters in a democracy can be wrong, but all of them cannot be deluded.

It was through democratic and constitutional means that the Nazis developed from a fringe political movement into the party that enjoyed total power to transform the nature of German politics and society. Hicks shows that long before Hitler’s rise to power, the Nazi ideas were being propagated in Germany by many leading intellectuals. Over the course of several years, these intellectuals did some kind of groundwork for making the Nazi ideology acceptable to the people.

National Socialism was a philosophy intensive movement. The who’s who list of powerful minds and cultural leaders who supported the Nazi political movement included Nobel prize winners, professors, and popular authors.

Hicks thinks that it is important for us to fully understand what motivated National Socialism, because even though the Nazis lost the war, it was a close call and we can’t be sure that it won’t happen again. He points out:

“The Nazi intellectuals were not lightweights, and we run the risk of underestimating our enemy if we dismiss their ideology as attractive only to a few cranky weirdos. If your enemy has a machine gun but you believe he only has a pea shooter then you are setting yourself up for failure.”

The book’s purpose is to explore Nietzsche’s writings to find out the extent to which his ideas were responsible for the rise of Nazism. Nietzsche was certainly not a Nazi, but his ideas are often blamed for creating the cultural environment in which Nazism could arise and prosper.

“Nazis have often cited Nietzsche as one of their philosophical precursors, and even though Nietzsche died thirty-three years before the Nazis came to power, references to Nietzsche crop up regularly in Nazi writings and activities.”

The top leaders of the Nazi party were enamoured by Nietzsche. “In 1935, Hitler attended and participated in the funeral of Nietzsche’s sister Elisabeth. In 1938, the Nazis built a monument to Nietzsche. In 1943, Hitler gave a set of Nietzsche’s writings as a gift to fellow dictator Benito Mussolini.”

Joseph Goebbels was a great admirer of Nietzsche—in his semi-autobiographical novel he drew a connection between the novel’s protagonist and Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Hicks takes a broad look at Nietzsche’s works to discover the nature of the ideas that the philosopher could have planted in the minds of the German intellectuals, academics, politicians and cultural leaders. While there are a few similarities between Nietzsche’s ideas and the Nazis, many of his ideas are at loggerheads with Nazism.

The most significant point of difference between Nietzsche and the Nazis is that Nietzsche was not an anti-semitic. He believed that the most repulsive sign of Germany’s decline is the country’s irrational hatred of the Jews.

Nietzsche is often regarded as an individualist philosopher, but Hicks is of the view that Nietzsche’s commitment to individualism is overrated. There are certain elements in Nietzsche which seem to advance strongly collectivistic and anti-individualistic themes.

Nietzsche believed that individuals are the product of their biological heritage. He had a complete “contempt for the vast majority of the population, believing them to be sheep and a disgrace to the dignity of the human species.” He believed that it would be an improvement if the general population were sacrificed or slaughtered.

Both Nietzsche and the Nazis have dismissed capitalism as a dehumanizing economic system. Though Nietzsche has not articulated his political views clearly, the Nazi party had a strong commitment to socialism.

In his 1927 speech Hitler declared: “We are socialist, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are determined to destroy this system under all conditions.”

The Nazi Party was an intellectual project; its intellectual foundations were so strong that when the Nazis came to power, they had full knowledge of the policies that they had to enact to fundamentally transform Germany from a constitutional democracy to an authoritarian dictatorship. As the intellectuals had already convinced the general population that Nazi ideas were good for the world, Hitler faced negligible opposition to his policies.

While the rise of the Nazis has been analyzed in thousands of publications, Nietzsche and the Nazis is unique because it looks at the monumental evil of Nazism from the perspective of philosophy. The book is compact and eloquently written; its arguments, stated in clear, straightforward language, are quite convincing.

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