Some call Friedrich Nietzsche the father of the Nazi party. Was Nietzsche’s ideas twisted and warped by a needy country? Nietzsche himself despised the middle and lower class people. Was it Nietzsche’s Will to Power theory that spawned one of the greatest patriotic movements of the twentieth century? These are some of the questions I had when first researching Friedrich Nietzsche for the following paper.
Friedrich Nietzsche, at one time called “the arch enemy of Christianity”(Bentley, p.82), was born into a line of Protestant Clergyman on October 15, 1844. During Nietzsche’s early years, he gave no indication that he would not follow in his families’ clergy tradition. As a boy, Nietzsche considered himself a devout Lutheran. At age six(two years after his father passed away)Nietzsche, his mother and sister moved to the small town of Naumburg. When Nietzsche was twelve he wrote “I saw God in all his glory”(Bentley, p.82). Later his description of his own mental state was one of Gottergebenheit; “surrender to God”(Bentley, p.82). At a very early age Nietzsche had already displayed an aptitude for highly intellectual prowess. At fourteen, Nietzsche left his home of Naumburg and went to an exclusive boarding school at the nearby Schulpforta Academy. The school was famous for its grandeur of alumni that included “Klopstock and Fichte”(Brett-Evans, p.76). “It was here that Nietzsche received the thorough education in Greek and Latin that set him upon the road to classical philology.”(Brett-Evans, p. 76) On many occasions Nietzsche’s zeal to prove himself at the Pforta school spurned legendary tales. One certain tale is when Nietzsche “could not bear to hear of the courage of Mucius Scaevol, who did not flinch when his hand was burnt off, without seizing a box of matches and firing them against his own hand.”(Bentley, p.84) At the age of twenty, Nietzsche left to attend Bonn University. By this time Nietzsche had come to think of himself as an “aristocrat whose great virtues are fearlessness and willingness to assume leadership.”(Bentley, p.85) Ironically, Nietzsche planned to study theology(to please his mother). At this time Nietzsche no longer believed in Christianity, because “with maturity he lost his heavenly father”(Bentley, p.86). In 1868 Nietzsche was a student in Leipzig. This is when he met Cosima and Richard Wagner. The latter was a world-renowned musical artist. Both of these individuals were crucial to Nietzsche’s development as a philosopher.
Theognis was a poet of the sixth century B.C. This man supplied Nietzsche with the idea that an aristocracy “should be scientifically bred like horses”(Bentley, p.85) When Nietzsche was twenty, he had acquired a diverse set of opinions and attitudes. He had been taught to “admire strong politicians and to think of himself as an aristocrat whose great virtues are fearlessness and willingness to assume leadership.”(Bentley, p. 85) Despite his own personal efforts to be bad and mean, Nietzsche remained innocent and caring. The first major school of thought that Nietzche adhered to was because of the writings of Schopenhauer. After purchasing Arthur Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Idea, a book on metaphysics, Nietzsche wrote, “I saw a mirror in which I espied the whole world, life and my own mind depicted in frightful grandeur. In this volume the full celestial eye of art gazed at me; here I saw illness and recovery, banishment and refuge, Hell and Heaven.”(Bentley, p.87) Nietzsche went back and forth with these opposites for the rest of his life. Deviant from Schopenhauer’s class theory, Nietzsche’s “endeavor was not so much to elevate the practical man to the first rank as to merge Schopenhauer’s first three ranks into one superhuman being.”(Bentley, p.89) As Nietzsche did with all of his youthful inspirations, he turned against Schopenhauer. “The name of Schopenhauer was the flag under which he was proud, for a time, to advance.”(Bentley, p.89) The second major influence in Nietzsche’s development was the Wagners, Richard and Cosima. Nietzsche was captivated by Richard Wagner. Nietzsche personally thought the reason behind this was Wagner’s musical art and talent. Nietzsche’s sister Elizabeth was “closer to the truth in her belief that what held Nietzsche was Wagner’s tremendous will power and instinct of command. Wagner, Nietzsche thought for a time, was the highest of higher men and he held the key to a new epoch of art and new epoch of life.”(Bentley, p. 91) Wagner was the only man Nietzsche knew that personified his will-to-power theory. In essence, Wager was Nietzsche’s superman.
Nietzsche is given credit for the National Socialism movement in Germany that began in the 1930’s. Far more damaging to his reputation has been the course of German history from his death(1900) to 1945. “To claim him, as National Socialism did, as a prophet of the superiority of the Germanic race and an advocate of German world domination is only possible by ignoring the greater part of what he wrote.”(Brett-Evans, p.81) Matter-of-factly, Nietzsche sternly despised anti-Semites. At certain times, there was not a harsher critic of racist German nationalism. But some questions arise out of these statements. What of the comments Nietzsche made concerning the “will-to-power” theory, the constant reference to the “superman”, and his sometimes vigorous patriotism? One of the most significant contributions Nietzsche made was in the area of psychology not philosophy. One of the “most significant conclusions he came to in this field was that traditional morality consists of different expressions for the same thing, that “good” actions and “bad” actions can ultimately derive from the same motive.”(Brett-Evans, p.80)