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You could say that when you compare a mind like Nietzsche’s to a second-rate mind like Richard Spencer’s, you merely waste everyone’s time, or give ample room for people to say so. In Sean Illing’s essay, the author avoids that trouble altogether, beginning with these sentences at the end of his introduction:

As someone silly enough to have written a dissertation on Nietzsche, I’ve encountered many Spencer-like reactions to his thought. And I’m not surprised that the old German philosopher has become a lodestar for the burgeoning alt-right movement. There is something punk rock about his philosophy. You read it for the first time and you think, “Holy shit, how was I so blind for so long?!”

He goes on to write an article that explicates Nietzsche far better than academic discussions of Nietzsche’s work. Specifically, Illing’s analysis indicates why Nietzsche’s thought forged philosophical foundations for Nazism. Before long you turn against him from guilt by association. That happens even though his major work in morals and philosophy occurred nearly fifty years before Nazis came to power. Perhaps Hegel would have desired to disown Marx as well.

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Friederich Nietzsche, c. 1875

Illing perceives why you should watch yourself when you encounter someone as unconventional and forceful as Nietzsche:

Nietzsche liked to say that he “philosophized with a hammer.” For someone on the margins, stewing in their own hate or alienation or boredom, his books are a blast of dynamite. All that disillusionment suddenly seems profound, like you just stumbled upon a secret that justifies your condition.

Which book did Nazis most like to quote? Hitler’s followers cited his last work, The Will to Power, a book so egregiously assembled by his sister, after Nietzsche died, that some critics called it a forgery. The two deadly ideologies of the twentieth century, communism and fascism, sought to appropriate heavyweight philosophers, Marx and Nietzsche, to lend an appealing veneer to evil political designs.

Nietzsche’s ideas were iconoclastic, but he would never have advocated for an anti-semitic racial ideology like Nazism. Worse yet, neo-Nazis love to appropriate him, nearly a century after German fascists so carelessly and cynically did the same. Read Illing’s article to see how purveyors of discontent have misused aphoristic philosophy from a late nineteenth-century German philosopher.


Article cited

The alt-right is drunk on bad readings of Nietzsche. The Nazis were too.