Saving Nietzsche and Ourselves

Sean A. McElwee, May 02, 2013

Nietzsche is incorrectly often associated with fascism, especially Nazism. When he descended into insanity, his sister Elizabeth took control of his works and selectively edited them to support the Third Reich. This is a shame, because Nietzche wrote many prescient passages in his early aphoristic days.  In The Wanderer and His Shadow, Nietzsche writes, “No government admits any more that it keeps an army to satisfy occasionally the desire for conquest. Rather the army is supposed to serve for defense, and one invokes the morality that approves of self-defense.”

Nietzsche-274x300This insight elucidates American foreign policy. How many foolish ventures have begun in the “national defense”? From the domino theory to the Bush doctrine to drone strikes, American foreign engagements have always been cloaked under the guise of “defense.” Nietzsche’s unfair assessment is particularly appalling since he held antithetical views. He hopes for the day when,

“a people, disgusted by wars and victories and by the highest development of a military order and intelligence, and accustomed to make the heaviest sacrifices for these things, will explain of its own free will, ‘We break the sword’ and will smash its entire military establishment down to its lowest foundations. Rendering oneself un-armed on hone had been the best-armed, out of a height of feeling-that is the means to real peace…”

Rather than being a rabid fascist, Nietzsche was a sensitive pacifist. Before he lost control of his mental faculties Nietzsche saw a horse being violently flogged, he ran to the horse and threw his arms around the beast to protect it. And he may well be right. Paul Collier finds that violent conflict is one of the greatest inhibitors to economic growth. Costa Rica and Iceland are doing fine without a standing army.

But it’s doubtful we’ll soon disband our army and convert our guns into plowshares. As Nietzsche notes:

Our liberal representatives, as is well known, lack time for reflecting on the nature of man: else they would know that they work in vain when they work for ‘a gradual decrease of the military burden.’ Rather the tree of war-glory can only be destroyed all at once by a stroke of lightning…”

Could there be a better description of the half-assed mutual disarmament? But could Nietzsche imagine that the man who sanctioned the Indonesian invasion of East Timor and the man who plans weekly signature strikes on small villages would both be awarded an international prize for peace?




6 Responses to “Saving Nietzsche and Ourselves”

  1. [...] Originally Posted on Antiwar.com [...]

  2. Thanks for highlighting the other, truer side of Nietzsche.

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  5. Paul Collier finds that violent conflict is one of the greatest inhibitors to economic growth.

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  6. This was a real chance at using diplomacy to stave off U.S. intervention that is almost universally opposed and would very likely worsen the humanitarian situation in Syria without any additional utility.