Hitler and Nietzsche
[First appeared in The English Review 64, 1937, pp. 44-52.]
by Anthony M. Ludovici
Much has been written and more has been said about the Nietzschean influence
behind the new regime in Germany. And while some have condemned national
Socialism offhand on that score alone, others (among them some Nietzscheans)
have condemned it for being a travesty of Nietzsche -- i.e., for having
misinterpreted and misapplied the Master's teaching.
But no matter how the dispute on these points may ultimately be decided, it
seems fairly obvious that there must be a strong Nietzschean influence in
National Socialism, if only because of the powerful breath of pre-Socratic
Hellenism which has prevailed in Germany ever since the NSDAP seized the
reins of government.
For the sake of those readers who are not quite clear regarding this
association of Nietzscheism with pre-Socratic values, perhaps it would be as
well to point out that, according to Nietzsche, the history of mankind
falls, as it were, into two halves -- the period preceding Socrates, during
which the public estimate of a man was always based upon his biological
worth, and the period following Socrates, during which the public estimate
of a man always tended to neglect or ignore his biological worth. How
Socrates changed the point of view in order to make things tolerable for
himself (a degenerate specimen) I have already explained in these pages.
Thus, Nietzsche claimed that the Socratic way of looking at men which
ignored their biological worth, or regarded it as negligible, was a way
which favoured degenerates, just as it had favoured the great degenerate who
first instituted it; and the German philosopher advocated a return to the
pre-Socratic values which, by being concentrated on biological worth, would
combat and eliminate degeneracy.
Now, if only in this return to the biological angle of vision in viewing
mankind, modern Germany is essentially Nietzschean, and when we come to
appreciate the other elements in National Socialism which owe their
inspiration to Nietzsche, and bear in mind not only Adolf Hitler's sincere
and earnest admiration of Nietzsche's philosophy and his great friendship
with Frau Förster-Nietzsche, Nietzsche's sister, but also Alfred Rosenberg's
strong sympathy with the Nietzschean outlook -- Rosenberg being the head of
the department in charge of political training for the National Socialist
Party -- we are left in no doubt whatsoever regarding the profound influence
the creator of his peripatetic sage Zarathustra is now exerting over his
native country. Perhaps it may not be uninteresting to inquire what, besides
the wave of pre-Socratic values, may definitely be ascribed to Nietzsche's
leadership in the Third Reich.
During the recent Parteitag in Nuremberg, the first most characteristic
feature was the Führer's own attitude towards culture as outlined in his
speech of 9th September at the Opera House. He made it quite clear that he
would not and could not regard art as an international affair, as our own
Oxford aesthete and dilettantes have always done, and declared that "all
this chatter of internationalism in art is as idiotic as it is dangerous".
He argued that since art is the expression of a people's life and the bloom
on the tree of their values, and that "no man can bear any intimate relation
to any cultural achievement which does not have its roots in his own origins
and soil", it is as ridiculous to expect a national art product to have
international validity or to make the same appeal everywhere as to suppose
that a German or an English national can feel the same emotions when reading
another nation's history as when reading his own.
Thus he concluded that culture is invariably the product of discipline and
authority within a particular national unit. It invariably springs from the
work of the legislator who first established the values of a people. "It is
the civilized product of political leadership." And he made it clear that,
"just as a Christian age could have only a Christian art, so a National
Socialist age could have only a National Socialist art".
All this is perfectly consistent with Nietzscheism. But before showing the
connexion, it is important to refer to certain misconceptions that may
arise, and have indeed arisen, in respect of the last quoted statement of
the Führer. To this end I need only recall the communication made by the
Berlin Correspondent of the Morning Post to his journal on 8th October.
Referring only to the statement in question, the writer of the article
said: "Which, one wonders, of the susceptible, but non-German-speaking
English guest of honour who have since written to the Press to assert that
Nazi Germany is saving Christian civilization from Bolshevism, realize that
this striking antithesis was uttered and applauded in their hearing? Rarely,
if ever, has Herr Hitler given the world such a succinct clue to his
pretensions -- that the political movement of his formation is destined to
inaugurate a new era in Europe, to inherit the moral authority and
inspiration exercised by Christianity to a lesser or greater degree in
European affairs for a thousand years."
The implication is, of course, that the set of values promulgated by
National Socialism are, on the Führer's own showing, in conflict with
Now I happened to be one of the English guests of honour present when that
statement was made, and I understood and applauded it. But so far was I from
drawing the conclusions which the Morning Post's Berlin correspondent drew
that, when I read his interpretation, it was with feelings of complete
Nor do I believe that his interpretation could be upheld even on purely
historical grounds. For instance, if he will turn up the article
"Architecture" in the second volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (11th
edition) he will find chapters under various headings which are just as
susceptible to his interpretation of the Führer's words as the Führer's
own statement was. He will find a whole chapter under the heading "Early
Christian Architecture", and later a chapter under the heading "Renaissance
Architecture". Would he infer from this that the writer intended solemnly to
maintain that there had been a complete breach between the two periods in
question on the matter of Christianity's moral authority and inspiration?
And if he would not, why does he infer it in discussing the Führer's
statement, which, by the by, he wrenches quite gratuitously from its
All I inferred from the Führer's words was that just as Christianity had,
as an international faith untinctured by local sentiment and character,
produced a certain kind of art which ultimately became differentiated as the
Church split up and became influenced by national segregations of humanity,
so National Socialism (one of these more recent segregations) would
necessarily and in time produce an art having its own peculiar character.
There was not a word in the Führer's speech to indicate, however, that an
antithesis was meant or that this peculiar national character manifesting
itself in National Socialist art would necessarily be in conflict with true
Christianity. And as far as I can see, the influence drawn by the Morning
Post's Berlin correspondent was as entirely gratuitous as was his quotation
of this one line out of context of the Führer's address.
The Führer was simply making it quite clear to his listeners that any art
which is nondescript to the point of being independent of the soul of the
people among which it finds its being -- any art, that is to say, which in
the true sense may be termed "international" -- is of minor importance
unless, of course, a homogeneity of types and values prevails over all
national units. And why must this be so? Because such art cannot help being
chaotic, labyrinthine and characterless, owing to its being rooted in a
clash and chaos of values.
"No people could live", said Nietzsche1, "that did not in the first
place value. If it would maintain itself, however, it must not value as its
neighbour doth . . . . Values did man stamp upon things only that he might
To have the same art as everybody else, therefore, would be to value as
everybody else values, and this to a people means self-extermination; hence
the basic stupidity of the idea of an international art in present-day
conditions, in which homogeneity of type and values is still remote.
"What does all art do?", Nietzsche asks. "Does it not praise? Does it not
glorify? Does it not select? Does it not bring into prominence? In each of
these cases it strengthens or weakens certain valuations."
But the Führer did not imply or lead his audience to suppose that out of
National Socialism a new art peculiar to it would be evolved, as it were,
overnight. He suggested nothing so ridiculous. He spoke, on the contrary, of
the "enormous importance of prolonged moulding" (die ungeheure Bedeutung
dieser langsamen Formung). He made it plain that his own and his
colleagues' efforts were concentrated on restoring to the German people
those great traditions of their nation, those tried and time-honoured
customs, those characteristic institutions and values, out of which an art
of the future, a National Socialist art, would necessarily grow, as did a
Judeo-Greco-Christian art out of a Europe made well-nigh homogeneous in
spirit by the Hellenistic, Jewish and other values spread by the early
"The essential thing in heaven and earth", said Nietzsche, "is apparently
that there should be long obedience in the same direction; then there comes
about and has always come about in the long run something which has made
life worth living -- for instance, virtue, art, music, dancing, reason,
spirituality, etc. . . . . Even the beauty of a race or family, the
pleasantness and kindness of their whole demeanour, is acquired by effort;
like genius it is the final result of the accumulated labour of
Those who know of the recent scientific justification of this standpoint,
who remember Herbert Spencer's words: "The aspects which displease us are
the outward correlatives of inward imperfections", and who are aware of the
fact that research workers like Dr Kretschmer, Dr George Draper and Dr E.S.
Talbot all associate morbidity, abnormality or degeneracy with ugliness,
will appreciate the prescience of Nietzsche when they learn that as long ago
as 1888 he was writing: "from the physiological standpoint, everything ugly weakens and depresses
man. It reminds him of decay, danger impotence . . . . Ugliness is
understood to signify a hint and a symptom of degeneration; that which
reminds us however remotely of degeneracy, impels us to the judgment 'ugly'
. . . . A certain hatred expresses itself here. What is it that man hates?
Without a doubt it is the decline of his type. In this respect his hatred
springs from the deepest instincts of the race: there is, however, caution,
profundity and far-reaching vision in this hatred -- it is the most profound
hatred that exists. On its account alone art is profound."
These sentiments are redolent of a period when man still clung to the point
of view -- now at last in the process of being confirmed by science -- that
body and mind are one and cannot be separated, that they are both merely
different aspects of the same thing.
The emphasis the Führer laid on this prerequisite, beauty, the way he
linked it up with the demands he makes of a national art, and his idea that
the best of his nation's stock should be the standard glorified by the
national art -- all these elements in his memorable address, down to the
very notion of a national art as the glorifier of a type, reveal him and his
associates not merely as a new and potent force for the sanitation of
European humanity (a force which is now inspiring even our own people), but
also certainly as followers of Nietzsche or, to put it moderately, as
influenced the poet-philosopher's teaching.
Maybe that he would never have presumed, even with Nietzsche behind him, to
come forward with such a doctrine at this hour, had he not known that
science itself -- much more acceptable than Nietzsche to the modern man --
was rapidly advancing to the defence of the same position. And the fact that
he has found loyal support in scientific quarters in Germany rather confirms
Turning now to the legislation of the National Socialist rulers during the
last three years, and all the emphasis it lays on the desirability of sound
stock, of preventing inferior or tainted stocks from multiplying, and of
eliminating from the ranks of parents all persons who are in any way
hereditarily diseased, we find further confirmation of the Nietzschean
influence, and, as I pointed out above, light upon definite proof that the
pre-Socratic bias of Nietzsche is at last making itself felt in Germany.
Indeed, certain passages from Nietzsche might even now serve as the outline
of the National Socialist programme.
Take, for instance, the following:
"There are cases when to have a child would be a crime -- for example, for
chronic invalids and extreme neurasthenics. These people should be converted
to chastity and for this purpose the music of Parsifal might at all events
Compare this with the Führer's reiterated claim that if in the past
voluntary chastity has been constantly demanded of a section of the
population for the sake of religion alone, why is it not justifiable to
expect and demand voluntary chastity, for reasons of devotion to the
homeland, of all those whose reproductive efforts would merely extend
"Society as the trustee of Life", says Nietzsche, "is responsible to Life
for every botched existence that comes into this world, and as it has to
atone for such lives, it ought to make it impossible for them to see the
light of day: it should in many cases actually prevent the act of
procreation, and may, without any regard for rank, descent or intellect,
hold in readiness the most rigorous forms of compulsion and restriction, and
under certain circumstances, have recourse to castration. The Mosaic law,
'Thou shalt do no murder', is a piece of ingenious puerility compared with
the earnestness of this forbidding of life to decadents, 'Thou shalt not
beget'. For Life itself recognizes no solidarity or equality of rights
between the healthy and unhealthy parts of an organism. The latter must at
all cost be eliminated, lest the whole fall to pieces. Compassion for
decadents, equal rights for the physiologically botched -- this would be the
very pinnacle of immorality; it would be setting up Nature's most formidable
opponent as morality itself!"
It is hardly possible to read the above without appreciating the extent to
which its light is reflected in the eugenic legislation and general
atmosphere of modern Germany. The details of much of this legislation has
already been dealt with in this journal.2 But the fact that in the Third
Reich the husbandman's concept of pity (i.e., as an emotion felt when the
sound and valuable plant is in danger of being sacrificed for the unsound or
worthless plant) is beginning to take the place of the urbanite's
sentimental and unreasoning pity which is felt only for morbid or abnormal
existences and is prepared to succour the latter at no matter what cost to
the sound -- surely that is the plainest proof that Nietzsche's inspiration
is at work.
"A medical certificate as a condition of any marriage", said Nietzsche,
"endorsed by the parochial authorities, in which a series of questions
addressed to the parties and the medical officers must be answered (family
histories)." And he made this demand for the marriages of the future.
This has already been realized legislatively, as we have seen, in modern
Turning now to political forms and the licence permitted in criticizing
them, Nietzsche's anti-democratic bias is of course well-known, as is also
the Führer's. According to the latter, and I think rightly, democracy is
the precursor of anarchy and communism, because, as the suffrage is extended
to the ranks of the ignorant, the purely subjective and the foolish, who
cannot see beyond the limits of their own self-interest, the democratic form
of government necessarily leads to a chaotic clash of self-interested groups
or sections who are prepared to see their country perish before they will
yield one iota of what they conceive to be their immediate advantage.
According to Nietzsche, democracy must be wrong because it means that the
few successful throws of Nature's dice must be swamped by the mediocre, the
inferior and the congenitally undesirable.
"I am opposed to parliamentary government and the power of the Press", he
said, "because they are the means whereby cattle become masters."
But today it is even worse than that. The advocates of democracy claim that
it is no respecter of persons, but the real trouble is that it is no
disrespecter of persons. This means that parliamentary government is not
only a means whereby cattle become masters, but also whereby sick and
degenerate cattle become masters, and everybody, however ill-informed, is
led to think that he has a right to discuss any problem.
Throughout the Parteitag the Führer repeatedly emphasized the value to
Germany of having rid herself of her democracy, her talking institutions,
her overweening loose-lipped chatterboxes, and the voice of degeneracy and
impudence at her council table. And here again, like Napoleon, Bismarck and
other eminent political thinkers, he showed his appreciation of silence as a
healing force in the life of a wounded, disordered nation. Referring to the
sacred years of inarticulate babyhood during which, as we now know, we
acquire most of what ultimately determines our character as men, de Quincey
spoke of "that mighty silence which infancy is thus privileged by nature and
by position to enjoy". Nietzsche, too, was well aware of the value of
silence and enjoins on those who would rediscover wisdom the duty of
emulating the Pythagoreans.
But in a democracy the noise of chatter never ceases, the tongue of the
nation never rests, and the impudence of degenerate nonentities is pampered
and defended. When, therefore, the Führer repeatedly assures Germany of the
benefits of her silence, if only as a therapeutic measure, and points to the
advantage which, as the silent nation, she now enjoys over all the
vociferous and chattering nations of Western democracy, he once more
reveals, if not the Nietzschean influence, at least a deep sympathy with the
ideas of the latter-day German sage.
ANTHONY M. LUDOVICI
1. The quotations from Nietzsche's works in this article are all taken from
the authorized English translation, edited by Dr Oscar Levy.
2. See Anthony M. Ludovici, "Hitler and the Third Reich", The English
Review 63, 1936, pp. 35-41, 147-153, 231-239.