Saturday, October 17, 2009

Chapter 9: Nietzsche, Prophet of the Twentieth-Century

(this post is for extra credit)

In the picture section of Age of Empire (in the middle of the book), Hobsbawm says that Friedrich Nietzsche was the “prophet of the era of war, barbarism, and fascism;” I could not say it any better. Nietzsche was born in Germany in 1844 and died, fittingly, in the first year of the twentieth century—the century of "war, barbarism, and fascism".

The composer Richard Wagner heavily influenced Nietzsche, and it is almost possible to hear Wagner’s music in the background while reading titles such as Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Antichrist. Nietzsche is perhaps one of the most influential thinkers of the turn of the century, and he is also one of the most understood. His ideas of morality and individualism were groundbreaking, for example, “The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: `I, the state, am the people.'... Everything about it is false; it bites with stolen teeth,” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra). This quote makes it evident that Nietzsche was thoroughly against popular democracy and socialism, as well as nationalism and imperialism.

Nietzsche was an activist of individualism, and this is where he becomes misinterpreted. His “will to power” and idea of the Ubermensch (superhuman) have been interpreted by tainted readers such as the Germans in the First World War and the Nazis in the Second as militaristic and anti-Semitic. Thus, when one reads Nietzsche, listens to Wagner, and looks at a painting by Hablik—doing all of this with a national-imperial-militaristic perspective—one will be pushed to go on a Grail-hunting journey or inclined to Blitz across enemy lines in an effort to gain territory for the Second or Third Reich to the tune of Ride of the Valkyries.

-Stefan Larson

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