Sunday, 31 May 2015




During the last few weeks I have repeatedly heard the question asked how far Nietzsche may be held responsible for the present war. It cannot be seriously doubted that a vast body of German public opinion regards, or pretends to regard, it as a struggle after the very heart of him who scouted pity; as the most contemptible of the Christian "virtues," regarded war as one of the main activities of the Superman, and gave unto his chosen ones the supreme commandment "live dangerously."       

Before and since the outbreak of hostilities all sorts of queer statements have been made by public men in Germany from the Kaiser upwards, which sound to any true student of Nietzsche much as the notes of a great singer might sound when transmitted through some cheap and blaring megaphone. To the grotesque misapplication of Nietzsche's teaching regarding the transvaluation of all moral values is in large measure due the mean and cynical repudiation of national honor, which caused Germany to dismiss the Belgian treaty as "a scrap of paper," and to make to England the disgusting proposal that she should stand quietly by while her chief ally was robbed of her colonies.

Nietszche, again, had, in a certain context and with marked reservations, defended slavery, and had declared that the weaklings of this earth existed only for the sake of the Superman, that sovereign incarnation of the Will to Power. It is seemingly to a perverse misrendering of this precept by a hundred brutal militarists and professorial pedants, that we owe the German official policy of "Schrecklichkeit," or "awfulness," which has resulted in a succession of organised horrors probably unparalleled in the world's history.


If anyone still doubts these occurrences, I repeat, let him go up to the newspaper room at the Public Library and consult "The Times" of September 16 for the official report of the Belgian Commission on the behavior of the German army in Belgium. This testimony is confirmed up to the hilt by the special war correspondent of "Nash's Magazine," who, in the current number, describes a few of the horrors he has lately seen. The report just mentioned and the other reports of the Commission should be sufficient proof, of these things even for the most uncompromising Australian Anglophobe, or Teutophil.

I may add that I am not recurring to this subject because I like it, or be cause I, expect other people to like it. The details given are as odious to me as they must be to every normally constituted man or woman. My sole object is to point out to Australians that they have to expect this, and worse if worse were possible—should German troops ever set foot on English or Australian soil: and if I can help in nerving the heart and will of every Australian of fighting age to enlist at once, and make such a hideous contingency impossible, my purpose will have been amply served.


To return to our subject, we have for long been informed that modern Germany is steeped in Nietzsche's teaching, and that his influence has been especially strong in German universities, Gerhart Hauptmann, the leading German playwright of the day, in his contribution to the manifesto recently addressed to America by German writers, enlarged on the "culture"—convenient and elastic word!—of the German army, and said that it was common for a German soldier to go to the front with one of Nietzsche's masterpieces in his knapsack.

One is tempted to ask whether all Nietzsche's works are equally acceptable to the "cultured" spoilers, of Louvain, or whether any are placed on the index by the military censor. Certain it is that if the German army reads Nietzsche extensively, it must get some rude shocks. The following is a literal translation of a passage in Nietzsche's "Ecce Homo," and I would draw special attention to the last sentence:— 
Not only have the Germans entirely lost the breadth of vision which enables one to grasp the course of culture and the values of culture; not only are they one and all political (or church) puppets; but they have also factually put a ban upon this very breadth of vision. A man must first and foremost be German, he must belong to "the race"; then only can he pass judgment upon all values and lack of values in history—then only can he establish them. To be German is itself an argument.
"Deutschland, Deutschland über alles" is a principle. The Germans stand for the "moral order of the universe" in history. There is such a thing as writing history according to the lights of Imperial Germany there is, I fear, anti-Semitic history—there is also history written with an eye to the Court, and Herr von Treitschke is not ashamed of himself. When I listen to such things I lose all patience, and I feel inclined I even feel it my duty, to tell the Germans, for once in a way, all that they have on their conscience. Every great crime against culture for the last four centuries lies on their conscience.


The reference to Treitschke is interesting, and bears out what I stated a few weeks ago that in certain German Universities European history is "made to order" at the sweet will of the authorities, and that students are carefully  guarded from those truths which would lead them to favor a peace based on a fair view of their neighbors. But Nietzsche's loathing of the German character was vast, and various. As a writer in "The Times" has recently pointed out, one of his main causes for disliking Wagner was the fact that "he condescended to the Germans, and became German Imperialist."

Nietzsche expressly repudiates any identification of his own teaching with the spirit of modern Prussia, and instances as a sign of that Teutonic stupidity which he despised, the fact that his book, "Beyond God and Evil," was seriously regarded in Prussia as a genuine and typical example of "Junker- Philosophie." He thus repudiated by anticipation the exact misapplication with which I am now dealing. When living in Switzerland he almost hugs himself with joy at his remoteness from Germany.

The following extracts, one imagines, must have caused the volume which contains them — "Ecce Homo" —to weigh rather heavily in the Prussian knapsack:—

It is even part of my ambition to be considered as essentially a despiser of Germans. I express my suspicions of the German character even at the age of six-and-twenty (see "Thoughts Out of Season," Vol. II., pp. 164, 165). To my mind, the Germans are impossible. When I try to think of the kind of man who is opposed to me in all my instincts, my mental image takes the form of a German. 

As Nietzsche continues to speak of the Germans, his language becomes "curiouser and curiouser":—

You can scarcely even fathom their depths —they haven't any, and that's the end of it. Thus they cannot even be called shallow. That which is called "deep" in Germany is precisely this instinctive uncleanliness to   wards oneself of which I have just spoken. Might I be allowed, perhaps, to suggest the word "German" as an international epithet denoting this psychological depravity?

And again: —
A man lowers himself by frequenting the society of Germans. The Germans have not the faintest idea of how vulgar they are; but this in itself is the acme of vulgarity—they are not even ashamed of being merely Germans.

It is not my present object either to justify or refute this estimate of the Germans; all that I wish to do is to point out that perhaps some of them are carrying more in their knapsack than they may be aware of.


Enough has probably been said to show that to judge by Nietzsche's utterances, Germany on the whole is somewhat mistaken when she claims him for her prophet and seer, and claims that if he had been living today he would have favored the present war. An esteemed friend of mine has pointed out to me that Nietesche's love of beauty alone would have led him to repudiate utterly the nation which has destroyed Rheims Cathedral, and given to the flames the immemorial treasures of Louvain.

How utterly he detested this kind of thing may be gathered from a letter of his to Baron von Gersdorf, apropos of the German excesses In Paris and the burning of the Louvre in 1871.

The following sentences seem especially striking if read in relation to the crimes of two months ago:—

We shall do wrong if we consider with a peaceful conceit the unchaining of a war against culture, and if we impute the fault merely to the unfortunates who do the deed. When I heard of the firing of Paris I was for some days utterly powerless, lost in tears and doubts; the life of science, of philosophy, and of art appeared to me as an absurdity when I saw a single day suffice for the ruin of the finest works of art.

In his autobiographical notes of 1870 he writes:—"The War : my profoundest affliction, the burning of the Louvre." His biographer, M. Halévy, further tells us that when he heard the news he "walked the roads like a desperate man," and subsequently recalled his own words that "without discipline, without a hierarchy, culture cannot subsist."         

The love of beauty, too, beauty manifested in the moral sphere, would, certainly have kept him from sympathy with the recent German outrages on innocent human life. Transvaluer though he was of moral values, he never wavered in his allegiance to the noble, as he understood nobility, nor strove to transvalue it into the ignoble; and if ever there was a supremely ignoble act; it was surely the German invasion of Belgium. No, as far as the present war is concerned, Nietzsche must be treated as a hostile witness by Germany. I must postpone an analysis of his general teaching till a future article.

Weekly Times 2 January 1915

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