Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm°

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NIETZSCHE, FRIEDRICH WILHELM ° (1844–1900), German philosopher, one of the key influences on modern thinking. The perception of Nietzsche's philosophy is to a considerable extent – more than is the case with other philosophers – marked by the transforming impact of its reception after he himself lapsed into silence (1887–89) due to mental illness. His highly enigmatic philosophy was subsequently adopted by circles which later had a powerful influence on Fascism, Nazism, and related movements. Using barely understood slogans from his works like "the Will to Power," "the Superman," and "Transvaluation of Values," they gave their own racist and antisemitic twist to the philosopher's conceptions. The Nazis hailed Nietzsche as one of the spiritual progenitors of Nazism, along with H.S. *Chamberlain and R. *Wagner. His letters and writings do indeed contain antisemitic remarks, and his nihilistic critique of liberalism, democracy, and modern culture contributed to the rise of irrational political movements. The claim that he was antisemitic was reinforced by Nietzsche's sister Elizabeth (the wife of Bernhard Foerster, a rabid professional antisemite), his literary executor; she forged, emended, and selectively edited his writings to bring them into line with her ideology.

In the course of his friendship with Richard Wagner, Nietzsche himself voiced some anti-Jewish opinions; after his break with the composer, however, he condemned antisemitism in the strongest terms. His attitude toward Judaism is usually described as ambivalent; yet this description blurs the intentions of his statements. His main reproach against Judaism was that it had given birth to Christianity, the religion of humility, weakness, and an inverted and unnatural "slave morality" that had caused immeasurable harm to the Western world. Thus he was attacking ancient, post-exilic Judaism, particularly its priests, who drew the ire of his anticlerical convictions. According to Nietzsche, the "priests" (and Pharisees) of the Second Temple period, or rather the proto-Christian priests, developed a morality according to which the weak hate and negate the strong (his "slave morality," Sklavenmoral). Nietzsche saw this development as a total re-evaluation of morality and as a revolutionary success, and it is against this ressentiment (that they have in common with his contemporary antisemites) that Nietzsche battled against ardently. Biblical and Diaspora Judaism, by contrast, earned his admiration for their august strength (even in times of persecution) and creativity. Accordingly, he considered contemporary Jewry as a possible source of ferment for his ideal, "dionysian," atheistic world.

His first acclaim came from Georg *Brandes, the Danish literary historian and critic. Oscar Levy was the first to translate Nietzsche into English, further helping to spread his ideas. Nietzsche also exerted a considerable influence on modern Hebrew writers, namely M.J. *Berdyczewski, J.Ḥ. *Brenner, Uri Zevi *Greenberg, and S. *Tchernichowsky. He also influenced certain activist elements within the nascent Zionist movement, an influence severely criticized by *Aḥad Ha-Am.

add. bibliography:

J. Golomb (ed.), Nietzsche and Jewish Culture (1997); S. Mandel, Nietzsche and the Jews (1994); W. Stegmaier and D. Krochmalnik (eds.), Juedischer Nietzscheanismus (1997); Y. Yovel, Dark Riddle (1998); S. Broemsel, in: Nietzsche-Handbuch (2000), 184–85 and 260–62.

[Henry Wasserman /

Marcus Pyka (2nd ed.)]