Recently, a man and woman shot two police officers dead. As a calling card, the killers dropped a swastika on the victims. Although neo-Nazis are nothing new, few Americans understand the origin of Naziism. In all likelihood, the killers didn’t know much about it either beyond some vague notion of white supremacy in Hitler’s Germany. Although Naziism is often traced back to Christian anti-Semitism, it was greatly influenced by the most anti-Christian philosophy imaginable: that of Friedrich Nietzsche. Here I explore those philosophical underpinnings.
Nietzsche defines weakness as the absence of willpower. It expresses itself in a lack of order, a disaggregation and anarchy of drives:
The multitude and disgregation [sic] of impulses and the lack of any systematic order among them result in a ‘weak will’; their coordination under a single predominant impulse results in a ‘strong will’: in the first case it is the oscillation and the lack of gravity; in the latter, the precision and clarity of direction (Will to Power, 29).
Because they lack willpower, the weak require help from the outside. Christianity serves this purpose. But by basing itself on pity, it works against breeding and selection, which are prized by the strong.
Christianity is called the religion of pity. Pity stands opposed to the tonic emotions which heighten our vitality: it has a depressing effect…Pity makes suffering contagious (The Antichrist, section 7).
The universal love of mankind is in practice the preference for the suffering, the underprivileged, degenerate…[T]he Christian scheme of values…has, from the standpoint of general breeding, no meaning at all…The species requires that the ill-constituted, weak, degenerate, perish: but it was precisely to them that Christianity turned…What is ‘virtue’ and ‘charity’ in Christianity if not just…this solidarity of the weak, this hampering of selection? (Will to Power, 142)
Christian charity, which does not recognize the inherent superiority of one race over another, makes the weak races strong and threatens to ruin the master race:
It is quite in order that we possess no religion of oppressed Aryan races, for that is a contradiction: a master race is either on top or it is destroyed (93).
This struggle between weak and strong, master and slave, provides the background against which Nietzsche analyzes the antagonism between Christianity and politics:
However modest one may be in one’s demand for intellectual cleanliness, one cannot help feeling, when coming into contact with the New Testament, a kind of inexpressible discomfiture: the unchecked impudence with which the least qualified want to raise their voice on the greatest problems, and even claim to be judges of such things, surpasses all measure. The shameless levity with which the most intractable problems…are spoken of, as if they are not problems at all but simply things that these little bigots knew!…Those lying little abortions of bigots…began to reverse values according to [their] own image, as if [they] were the meaning, the salt, the measure, and the standard of all the rest…The taste of natures of this kind tends to subtlety, to floweriness, to extreme feelings…[B]lundering is made into an art, the instinct for destruction systematized as ‘redemption’ (118;132;143).
Abundant strength wants to create, suffer, go under: the Christian salvation-for-bigots is bad music to it, and its hieratic posture an annoyance (129).
Christianity is the morality of the herd. It reverses the classical values of the ruling class. The values of the slave (meekness, obedience, self-sacrifice, poverty, chastity, pity) thenceforth become dominant and are called good, while the values of the masters, which are contrary to the slave values, lose their dominance and are rendered evil. According to Nietzsche, the time has come when Christianity should be overthrown through a reversal of values, that is, a return to the values of the masters.
Suppose the strong had become master in everything, and even in moral valuation: let us draw the consequences of how they would think about sickness, suffering, sacrifice! Self-contempt on the part of the weak would be a result; they would try to disappear and extinguish themselves.
Nietzsche hesitates on this point and asks, “Would this be desirable? — Would we really want a world in which the influence of the weak, their… spirituality [and] pliancy was lacking?” He leaves the question unanswered, but the response seems clear: in one form or another, the masters need slaves, a pliant people who will bend to their will. This is why even the masters embrace Christianity:
First, we are atheists and immoralists, but for the present we support the religions and moralities of the herd instinct: for these prepare a type of man that must one day fall into our hands, that must desire our hands (80).
Submission of the master races to Christianity is essentially the consequence of the insight that Christianity is a herd religion, that it teaches obedience: in short, that Christians are easier to rule than non-Christians. With this hint, the pope recommends Christian propaganda to the emperor of China even today (127).
But there is a problem. Christianity has infiltrated what should be the exclusive domain of the masters: politics. According to Nietzsche, Christianity and politics are antithetical to each other:
The presupposition of the earliest Christian community…is the unpolitical Jewish society. Christianity could grow only in the soil of Judaism, amidst a people that had already renounced politics…I do not like at all about that Jesus of Nazareth or his apostle Paul that they put so many ideas into the heads of little people, as if their modest virtues were of any consequence…Primitive Christianity is the abolition of the state: forbids oaths, war service, courts of justice, self-defense and the defense of any kind of community, the distinction between fellow countrymen and foreigners, and also differentiation of classes…Christianity is also the abolition of society: it prefers all that society counts of little worth, grows up among outcasts and the condemned, among lepers of all kinds, ‘sinners,’ ‘publicans,’ prostitutes, the most stupid folk (the ‘fishers’); it disdains the rich, the learned, the noble, the virtuous, the ‘correct’ (122-3).
The masters promote Christianity for selfish reasons, but the result is a politics in which even slaves have tasted power:
Christianity is nothing more than the typical socialist doctrine…In the background is insurrection, the explosion of a stored-up antipathy towards the ‘masters,’ the instinct for how much happiness there can be, after such long oppression, simply in feeling oneself free — (Usually a sign that the lower orders have been too well treated, their tongues have tasted happiness forbidden them — It is not hunger that provokes revolutions, but that the people have acquired an appetite through eating —)…[T]he Christian ideal…lets everything go that comprises the usefulness and value of man — it shuts him off by means of an idiosyncrasy of feeling…Christianity is only possible as the most private form of existence; it presupposes a narrow, remote, completely unpolitical society — it belongs to the conventicle. A ‘Christian state,’ ‘Christian politics,’ are a piece of impudence, a lie…and when reformers indulge in politics, as Luther did, one sees that they are just as much followers of Machiavelli as any immoralist or tyrant…This mediocre nature at last grows so conscious of itself (—acquires courage for itself— ) that it arrogates even political power to itself —…Unpolitical, antinational, neither aggressive nor defensive — possible only within the most firmly ordered political and social life, which allows these holy parasites to proliferate at public expense…Christianity, with its perspective of ‘blessedness,’ is a mode of thought typical of a suffering and feeble species of man…In practice this species of man goes under as soon as the exceptional conditions of his existence cease — a kind of Tahiti and island happiness, as in the life of the little Jews in the provinces (118-129).
Being “a denaturalization of herd-animal morality,” Christianity eventually sheds its supernatural trappings and becomes naturalized by assuming secular form:
The time has come when we have to pay for having been Christians for two thousand years…[One] attempts a kind of this-worldly solution…socialism: ‘equality of the person’ (20).
After the fetters fall away, “the great masses of slaves and semi-slaves desire power” (p. 126). This is achieved in four steps:
First step: they make themselves free…
Second step: … they demand recognition, equal rights, ‘justice.’
Third step: they demand privileges (— they draw the representatives of power over to their side).
Fourth step: they demand exclusive power, and they get it…Democracy is Christianity made natural (ibid.).
Once they have achieved political power, the masses slip their religious moorings. (Incidentally, this tendency was already present in Marx, who uses religious, even Christian, rhetoric for ends that are completely secular.)
All this has led to a kind of exhaustion in society. What does Nietzsche prescribe? Notwithstanding the fact that Walter Kaufmann and others have defended Nietzsche against the accusation of anti-Semitism, we have to understand exactly what it is that Nietzsche admired in Semitism if we hope to comprehend his remedy:
What an affirmative Semitic religion, the product of a ruling class, looks like: the law-book of Mohammed, the older parts of the Old Testament. (Mohammedanism, as a religion for men, is deeply contemptuous of the sentimentality and mendaciousness of Christianity — which it feels to be a woman’s religion (93).
We are given an indication regarding what exactly he admires about “the older parts of the Old Testament” by the fact that he lumps them together with the law-book of Mohammed. Let us recall what happens when Moses descends from the mountain and catches the people worshiping the gold calf. That is precisely the remedy that fits Nietzsche’s diagnosis. Under the rubric Theory of exhaustion, he writes,
Vice, the mentally ill (reap., the artists —), the criminals, the anarchists — these are not the oppressed classes but the scum of previous society of all classes. — Realizing that all our classes are permeated by these elements, we understand that modern society is no ‘society,’ no ‘body,’ but a sick conglomerate of chandalas — a society that no longer has the strength to excrete (31).
We should also recall the emphasis placed on war in the first books of the Old Testament. Whereas Christianity preaches peace and benevolence, masters are warriors. Nietzsche himself had what can be described as a war fetish. He praises the “splendid animality, the instincts that delight in war and conquest” (129). Countering a quotation by Galiani on how to avoid war, he writes,
Since I do not by any means share the unwarlike views of my friend Galiani, I am not afraid of predicting a few things and thus, possibly, of conjuring up the cause of wars (81).
Nietzsche is sometimes given credit by scholars for predicting the world wars, but they fail to appreciate the true evil of his statement. He would not mind “conjuring up” causes that should lead to war. He effectively did this by inspiring the Nazis through his writings.
Although he made statements against anti-Semitism (including his stark raving mad claim that he was “having all anti-Semites shot” [Letter to Overbeck, January 6, 1889]), we can see why the Nazis adopted his philosophy. Virtually everything advocated by him was taken up by them: the purging of undesirables, not only Jews but Slavs, gypsies, homosexuals, the infirm, the malformed, the handicapped; the use of slave labor; the enforcement of absolute order and discipline; the glorification of war; the emphasis on race and breeding; the essentially biological rather than spiritual view of the human being; the contempt for Christianity and its values — all of it was taken up by the Nazis.
The fact that they called themselves socialists means little in light of the führer-principle. Socialism was a means toward absolute power. Furthermore, the fact that so many Christians supported the Nazis did not diminish the latter’s contempt for Christianity one bit, as exhibited by repeated statements against Christianity made by Nazi leaders. One wonders whether those on the far right who flirt with Naziism realize how anti-Christian it really is.
The name Satan means accuser. We are told in the Book of Revelation that when the dragon was thrown down from heaven, John heard a voice saying, “[T]he accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night” (12:10). That is precisely what Nietzsche does in paragraph after paragraph, book after book. Pity, charity, humility, agape-love were explicitly rejected by him. The irony is that in his forties, Nietzsche himself became sick, decrepit, mentally ill, the embodiment of everything he said we should have no sympathy for.