Philosopher's Corner: Nietzsche

Humphrey Jordan challenges the misconception that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a fascist.

H. Jordan
11th December 2020
Image credit: Pixabay
In January 1937 the second volume of the journal Acéphale (the public face of founder Georges Bataille’s secret society) was published, entitled: Nietzsche et les Fascistes: Une Réparation.  
In the midst of Nazi Germany’s intensification of Jewish persecution, and the eve of Fascist Italy’s Manifesto della razza (Manifesto of Race), the prescience of these collected texts is hard to overstate.  

From the conflict of the ultra-left Acéphale and the Fascist regimes we are offered the two polarities Nietzsche appears torn between: Nietzsche the fascist, Nietzsche the revolutionary. 
Who can claim the proper name 'Nietzsche'?

Within the given space of this article the full extent of Nietzsche’s fascist appropriation cannot be addressed— however, two instances, taken together, may serve as a synecdoche for it: 
First, in Benito Mussolini’s La dottrina del fascismo (The Doctrine of Fascism) we find occasional, though significant, references to Nietzsche’s concept of the will to power (“volontà di potenza”), particularly in the ‘Fundamental ideas’ section. 
Ghost-written by Giovanni Gentile, this opening section is naturally foremost an extension of his neo-Hegelian ‘actual idealism’, his ‘actualism’, as opposed to Nietzscheanism as such (as is aptly pointed out by Bataille in his titular article in Nietzsche et les Fascistes). In this context, the will to power is to be understood as the will of the people as subordinated to the State— the latter held to be the locus of absolute value —to expand and perpetuate itself beyond its frontiers (whether actually or potentially). Such generalized subordination is certainly formalized within Nietzsche’s work, though to proclaim it as a political dictate of Nietzsche is untenable at best. 

Second, and undoubtedly more notorious, is the Nazi appropriation of the concept of the Übermensch, in which the concept is racialized in the most vulgar sense, naturally often paired with the opposite concept of the ‘Untermensch’— the latter term in this sense likely adopted from American white supremacist Lothrop Stoddard.  
Here the Overman, as opposed to referring to the figure that overcomes Christian morality (the passage from the ‘two world’ moral system to a creative-affirmative ethics), expresses an insistence on the a tergo biological superiority of the ‘Aryan’ race. This figuration of mastery is definitively reactive (predicated upon negating and limiting the other, as opposed to active and thus affirmative) and therefore subordinated to the ‘weakness’ that Nietzschean philosophy seeks to overcome.  

To the sum of these appropriations, we may swiftly respond as French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze does: 

“Even when they win, reactive forces are still reactive. […] Whatever the complexity of Nietzsche’s work, the reader can easily guess in which category (that is, in which type) he would have placed the race of ‘masters’ conceived by the Nazis.” 

—GILLES DELEUZE, PURE IMMANENCE

And, to the end of understanding the relation of Nietzsche, Nietzschean thought, and politics, we may conclude by affirming the thesis of French (Non-)Philosopher François Laruelle: 

Nietzsche is, in a double sense, the thinker of fascism; he is, in a certain way, a thinker of fascism, but he is, above all, the thinker of the subversion of fascism.”

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