Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Nietzsche was no friend of fascists.

Earlier this month, the UCL student union passed a decision to ban the Nietzsche Club, who pitched themselves as a study group for hard-to-far-right students (as many of them as there may be) interested in Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Julius Evola. As someone who is interested in Nietzsche and Heidegger I couldn't help but take some interest in the story. There are two things that came to mind initially:

1. Regardless of how repugnant the society was it did not pose a threat of physical violence to the student body. The ban will not be effective as the Club could just be set up again under another name and there would have to be another ban and so on. This is the impotence of censorship. Censors always fail as they can only act in retrospect and by then there is no use in censorship. If it has already been said then it has little effect in imposing a restriction. The obvious exception is when speech is used to call for violence and that is a criminal matter. If we want to live in a society in which it is unlikely for such instances to arise then we want greater change than banning lists.
2. It is a travesty that Nietzsche is still, in this century, associated with the Third Reich, as if he were some kind of proto-Nazi philosopher. You only have to judge the man by his deeds, not least his written in its proper context and understanding. Nietzsche distanced himself from his own sister due to her anti-Semitism and marriage to a German proto-fascist. Likewise, Nietzsche broke off his friendship with Wagner because of his growing inclination towards Christianity, nationalism and anti-Jewish racism. He had nothing but contempt, scorn and mockery for anti-Semites and regarded himself as a man without a nation. If only Nietzsche had lived into old age and remained sane to the end we would no doubt have record of his disgust at the early rise of Fascism.

There is a third point to be made alongside these. Both the philosopher Heidegger and the composer Wagner were involved in German nationalism. In Heidegger's case, we're talking about the moves he made to try and become the philosopher of the Third Reich in a bid to oppose the technological logic of modern society. His affinity for National Socialism was cultural and intellectual. With Wagner, we have the case of a man who lived long before the rise of Hitler, but he was a nationalist and anti-Semite in his later years. He did not hide these facts. In both instances, we can praise the work of these men without condoning or excusing their prejudices. This is a point worth making, as we would be mistaken if we assumed we would have to discard Nietzsche even if the opposite were the case.

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