It is common to hear that Adolf Hitler was influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche and that Nazism was inspired by his philosophy. But how true is this?
It is true that Hitler gave Mussolini a set of the works of Nietzsche for his birthday. It is also true that Hitler’s speeches and Nazi propaganda were peppered with catchphrase from Nietzsche. But how deep was the influence?
Walter Kaufmann provides an excellent introduction to Nietzsche in his Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist. I highly recommend it.
In his chapter on “The Master Race” Kaufmann shares some quotes that might surprise those who assume a close connection between Nazism and Nietzsche. For example, Nietzsche considered the Polish people one of the most gifted races and that Slavs in general were greater than Germans. Nietzsche also believed in race mixture and argued that Germany would benefit from mixing with other races.
People may not also be aware that Nietzsche had favourable opinions toward the Jews, a remarkable position in 19th century Germany. He much preferred Jews to Christians and the Old Testament to the New Testament. Nietzsche was very critical of antisemitism and spoke against his sister and brother-in-law who joined an antisemitic community.
Much of what would make Nietzsche attractive to the Nazis was the control that his sister had on his later publications as she attempted to impose her own antisemitic agenda on his writings.
I would suggest that Hitler and the Nazis used a shallow reading of Nietzsche, banking on the fact that most people either won’t read his books are at least won’t understand them. Words, phrases and concepts were taken and used apart from other opinions of Nietzsche that contradicted the Nazi agenda.
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