Nietzsche’s Jew­ish Prob­lem: Between Anti-Semi­tism and Anti-Judaism

Robert C. Holub

  • Review
By – December 23, 2015

Among the infa­mous pan­theon of Nazi artists and intel­lec­tu­als that espoused anti­semitism in the nine­teenth and twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the philoso­pher Fred­er­ick Niet­zsche is the sub­ject of heat­ed con­tro­ver­sy. The Nazis claimed his work, along with that of Richard Wag­n­er, as an anti­se­mit­ic pre­cur­sor that sought to deprive Ger­man Jews of their cit­i­zen­ship and expel them from Ger­many. In recent decades, how­ev­er, there has been a swing in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion. A num­ber of Niet­zsche schol­ars have argued that he was not only free of racist sen­ti­ments but was also a prin­ci­pled defend­er of Jews against the anti­se­mit­ic racial onslaught of his for­mer men­tor, Richard Wagner.

Robert C. Hol­ub, Ohio Emi­nent Schol­ar and pro­fes­sor of Ger­man at Ohio State Uni­ver­si­ty and for­mer chan­cel­lor of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts, Amherst, has sought to reap­praise the truth of these claims through the prism of a care­ful read­ing of evi­dence from Nietzsche’s pub­lished and unpub­lished let­ters. Although his con­clu­sions will not be the last word on the con­tro­ver­sy, Nietzsche’s Jew­ish Prob­lem is nev­er­the­less a valu­able con­tri­bu­tion to the debate. In cit­ing the com­ments of Weimar Repub­lic satirist Kurt Tuchol­sky — Who can­not claim Niet­zsche for their own? Tell me what you need and I will sup­ply you with a Niet­zsche cita­tion[…] for Ger­many and against Ger­many; for peace and against peace; for lit­er­a­ture and against lit­er­a­ture[…] what­ev­er you want.” — Hol­ub under­stands that Nietzsche’s atti­tudes towards the Jews was a com­plex one. He con­cludes that Niet­zsche har­bored anti-Jew­ish prej­u­dices through­out his life but was also an anti-anti­semite who opposed the crude and vul­gar polit­i­cal anti­semitism of late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ger­many, such as was espoused by Wag­n­er and his cir­cle of acolytes. Where­as Wag­n­er, Paul La Garde, and oth­er racial anti­semites called for the expul­sion of the Jews, Niet­zsche called for their assim­i­la­tion through inter­mar­riage with the Pruss­ian aris­toc­ra­cy, pro­duc­ing a supe­ri­or race based on Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­al­i­ty and Pruss­ian nobil­i­ty. Unlike the polit­i­cal anti­semites, Niet­zsche did not want to strip Jews of the qual­i­ties that had made them suc­cess­ful in the mod­ern world; instead he want­ed to have these traits bred into a Euro­pean race that would exer­cise hege­mo­ny over the entire world.” Niet­zsche viewed Chris­tian­i­ty as Judaism by anoth­er name, and called for the Judeo-Chris­t­ian “ slave moral­i­ty” to be replaced by a noble one asso­ci­at­ed with an Aryan and fair-haired race: the strong rul­ing over the poor and weak, instead of a moral­i­ty based on Love thy neigh­bor; Turn the oth­er cheek,” among oth­er Judeo-Chris­t­ian teach­ings seen as part of Nietzsche’s def­i­n­i­tion of slave morality.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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