Nietzsche, the Jews and His Father

Much has been written on Nietzsche and his attitude towards the Jews. Firstly accused of inspiring anti-Semitism and even Nazism, he was thereafter de-Nazified and considered in a more balanced way. Weaver Santaniello has written a much valuable book1 with a comprehensive and articulated analysis on the man and on the motivations of the ones who had a vested interest in presenting him as an anti-Semite.

However, reading Nietzsche and his expressions on the Jews one cannot abstain from the perception that we are dealing with an extremely emotional attitude. Expressions of extreme contempt and apparent hatred alternate with expressions of love and admiration. It is not only the content which is puzzling. It is the vehemence of the outbursts. As some scholars pointed, there certainly is a way to straighten up the apparent contradictions.2 On one hand he despised that branch of Rabbinic Judaism which — according to his own view — is responsible for the ideological breeding of Christianity. And on the other hand he admired the spirit of the ancient Hebrews and of modern Jews. Apparently his hatred was directed at Christianity and at that Judaism which — according to his own approach — generated it.

Nietzsche for sure was not an anti-Semite (Cf. “for which it would perhaps be a good idea to eject the anti-Semitic ranters from the country” (Beyond Good and Evil, 251) and he admired the Jews for being intellectually superior:

The Jews, however, are beyond all doubt the strongest, toughest and purest race at present living in Europe; they know how to prevail even under the worst conditions (better even than under favourable ones), by means of virtues which one would like to stamp as vices — thanks above all to a resolute faith which does not need to be ashamed before “modern ideas” (Beyond Good and Evil, 251).

With the flowing of time, Nietzsche’s philo-Semitism exacerbated in an escalando, to the point of wishing a Jewish “coup d’état” on Europe to impose on it their own superior stamina and Dionysian morality:

That the Jews could, if they wanted — or if they were compelled, as the anti-Semites seem to want — even now predominate, indeed quite literally rule over Europe, is certain; that they are not planning and working towards that is equally certain (op. cit.).

N. speaks of the Jews as if they were a body with an articulated will and cohesion. Nothing could be more distant from reality. Middle 19th century European Jewry was a mosaic of different intentions, aspirations and will. It seems to me that N. was more absorbed with an inner image of the Jew than with an outer reality. Therefore, it is in Nietzsche’s inner reality that we should look for an answer to the emotional substance of his attitude towards the Jews.

To say That the Jews could, if they wanted — or if they were compelled, as the anti-Semites seem to want — even now predominate, indeed quite literally rule over Europe, is an obvious overstatement. It seems that he somehow contracted the same well known virus of which the anti-Semites are affected: Jews’Overvaluation.

The difference is that in the anti-Semite this overvaluation translates into fear, hatred and paranoia, while Nietzsche’s overvaluation has a strongly positive connotation. This well known overvaluation is peculiar to a child’s attitude toward his own father. A child admires and fears the perceived omnipotence of his father. Beyond all, he indeed feels that everything in world’s events is concocted, premeditated and created by his father’s will. God created the world by the Word. This is no other that the child’s fantasy of his father’s omnipotence projected into a fantasized cosmic image.

Hatred and love alternate in a timeless dance of emotions. The final outcome is dictated by which sentiment finally prevails.

Now, who generated Christianity — which is the religion of the Son? The Jews, who represent the religion of the Father! Just like Nietzsche’s Father generated Nietzsche the Son. That is the reason why he attributed to the Jews not only an almighty power but also the responsibility of Christianity’s breeding.

Here I merely touch on the problem of the genesis of Christianity. The first principle for its solution is: Christianity can be understood only in terms of the soil out of which it grew — it is not a counter-movement to the Jewish instinct, it is its very consequence, one inference more in its awe-inspiring logic. In the formula of the Redeemer: “Salvation is of the Jews.” — (The Antichrist, 24).

Nietzsche speaks of the Jews only in absolute terms:

The Jews are the strangest people in world history because, confronted with the question whether to be or not to be, they chose, with a perfectly uncanny deliberateness, to be at any price: this price was the radical falsification of all nature, all naturalness, all reality, of the whole inner world as well as the outer. They defined themselves sharply against all the conditions under which a people had hitherto been able to live, been allowed to live; out of themselves they created a counter-concept to natural conditions — they turned religion, cult, morality, history, psychology, one after the other, into an incurable contradiction to their natural values. We encounter this same phenomenon once again and in immeasurably enlarged proportions, yet merely as a copy: the Christian church cannot make the slightest claim to originality when compared with the “holy people.” That is precisely why the Jews are the most catastrophic people of world history: by their after-effect they have made mankind so thoroughly false that even today the Christian can feel anti-Jewish without realizing that he himself is the ultimate Jewish consequence. (Op. cit.)

Strangest people in world history… to be at any price… they created (Just like God)… they turned… the most catastrophic people of world history… they have made mankind.

Moreover he himself (the Christian — i. e. Nietzsche himself) is the ultimate Jewish consequence. Like the son is the ultimate consequence of the father. As N. himself told us: “What the father hath hid cometh out in the son; and often have I found in the son the father’s revealed secret”. (Thus Spake Zarathustra, 29, “The Tarantulas”)

Indeed N. tells us that a real God should not be only good:

Such a god must be able to help and to harm, to be friend and enemy — he is admired whether good or destructive. The anti-natural castration of a god, to make him a god of the good alone, would here be contrary to everything desirable. The evil god is needed no less than the good god: after all, we do not owe our own existence to tolerance and humanitarianism … What would be the point of a god who knew nothing of wrath, revenge, envy, scorn, cunning, and violence? Who had perhaps never experienced the delightful ardeurs of victory and annihilation? No one would understand such a god: (The Antichrist, 16)

… He is admired whether good or destructive… exactly as a child feels towards his own father.

That castration of a god is mentioned is for sure not by accident.

In the same chapter he continues:

In my “Genealogy of Morals” I offered the first psychological analysis of the counter-concepts of a noble morality and a morality of ressentiment — the latter born of the No to the former: but this is the Judaeo-Christian morality pure and simple. So that it could say No to everything on earth that represents the ascending tendency of life, to that which has turned out well, to power, to beauty, to self-affirmation, the instinct of ressentiment, which had here become genius, had to invent another world from whose point of view this affirmation of life appeared as evil, as the reprehensible as such.

Psychologically considered, the Jewish people are a people endowed with the toughest vital energy, who, placed in impossible circumstances, voluntarily and out of the most profound prudence of self-preservation, take sides with all the instincts of décadence — not as mastered by them, but because they divined a power in these instincts with which one could prevail against “the world.” The Jews are the antithesis of all décadents: they have had to represent decadents to the point of illusion; with a non plus ultra of histrionic genius they have known how to place themselves at the head of all movements of décadence ( — as the Christianity of Paul — ) in order to create something out of them which is stronger than any Yes-saying party of life. Décadence is only a means for the type of man who demands power in Judaism and Christianity, the priestly type: this type of man has a life interest in making mankind sick; and in so twisting the concepts of “good” and “evil,” “true” and “false,” as to imperil life and slander the world. —

So, the Jews took side with the instincts of decadence, not because they are decadent themselves, but because they saw in the birth of Christianity — and its decadent ideology- their own revenge on the Roman world. In short: the Jews created Christianity as an act of vengeance and of self preservation.

However, in The Twilight of the Idols he accuses Socrates — and his pupil Plato — of being the decadent who initiated the western culture to what will ultimately end into Christianity. Actually he uses for Socrates the same epithets that he uses for Paul and the Christians: ugliness of the spirit, decadence and ressentiment (Op. cit., “The Problem of Socrates”)

For sure, N. sensed that there is a contradiction between his own analysis of Socrates and Plato as the first decadents whose ideology ultimately led to Christianity, and the Jews as responsible for this “plague” more than three hundreds years afterwards.

The point is that in N. perception, so pivotal are the Jews to every important historical and human event that he feels forced to find a link even between Plato and the Jews:

In the end, my mistrust of Plato goes deep: he represents such an aberration from all the basic instincts of the Hellene, is so moralistic, so pre-existently Christian — he already takes the concept “good” for the highest concept — that for the whole phenomenon of Plato I would sooner use the harsh phrase “higher swindle,” or, if it sounds better, “idealism,” than any other. We have paid dearly for the fact that this Athenian got his schooling from the Egyptians ( — or from the Jews in Egypt? …). In that great calamity, Christianity, Plato represents that ambiguity and fascination, called an “ideal,” which made it possible for the nobler spirits [Naturen] of antiquity to misunderstand themselves and to set foot on the bridge leading to the “cross” … And how much Plato there still is in the concept “church,” in the construction, system, and practice of the church! — (The Twilight of the Idols, “What I Owe to the Ancients”, 2)

As far as we know, Plato never was in Egypt. Nor had he anything to look for there in the first half of the 4th century B. C. At that time Egypt was only a backward Persian colony. The great cultural centre of Alexandria had not even been founded. And also the flourishing Jewish community of later Hellenistic times was not there, yet. However, since the Jews must be behind every pivotal event, the only way to find a link between Plato the — pre-existently Christian — and the Jews, the inventors of Christianity, was to have Plato travelling to Egypt in search of a Jewish contact. The Jewish connection — the eternal conspiring Jew behind the scenes — must be there, in the morbid mind of the Elders of Zion’s anti-Semite, as in the desperate cravings of Nietzsche, the incurable Philo-Semite.

We know what N. admired: strength under duress, determination, stamina, and strong self-identity. And we know what he despised: lack of character and weakness of will and identity. At this point, after having understood that Nietzsche’s admiration is reserved to the ones whom he considers strong-willed, and his despise to the ones who are “part of the flock” and lacking a strong character, we can better understand his intention when he says:

The Jews — a people “born for slavery,” as Tacitus and the entire ancient world said, “the chosen people among peoples,” as they themselves said and believed — the Jews achieved the amazing feat of inverting values, thanks to which life on earth for two millennia has possessed a new and dangerous appeal. (Beyond Good and Evil, par. 195).

True, when someone is quoted — without openly dissenting from the quoted — usually it means that the quoted opinion is also the writer’s.

However, it is impossible to understand Nietzsche without knowing exactly to which classic or biblical source he refers.

And that is what Tacitus says of the Jews:

all their other customs, which are at once perverse and disgusting, owe their strength to their very badness. The most degraded out of other races, scorning their national beliefs, brought to them their contributions and presents. This augmented the wealth of the Jews, as also did the fact, that among themselves they are inflexibly honest and ever ready to show compassion, though they regard the rest of mankind with all the hatred of enemies. They sit apart at meals, they sleep apart, and though, as a nation, they are singularly prone to lust, they abstain from intercourse with foreign women; among themselves nothing is unlawful. Circumcision was adopted by them as a mark of difference from other men. Those who come over to their religion adopt the practice, and have this lesson first instilled into them, to despise all gods, to disown their country, and set at nought parents, children, and brethren. Still they provide for the increase of their numbers. It is a crime among them to kill any newly-born infant. (Hist., 5: 5).

Namely, Tacitus despises the Jews because they “sit apart” “sleep apart” and separate themselves from other peoples.

However — for Nietzsche — the same thing, namely separating oneself from others, is a source of admiration and of strength and not of disgust and degradation. Indeed afterwards he tells us: “We should not overlook the following point: through natural necessity strong people strive to separate from each other, just as much as weak people strive to be together.” (Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Section 18). Of this book — Genealogy of Morals - N. himself told us: “A sequel to my last book, Beyond Good and Evil, which it is meant to supplement and clarify.”

By his own words, in Genealogy of Morals N. clarifies to us what he meant in Beyond Good and Evil.

Henceforth, it becomes obvious that N. speaks ironically of Tacitus’ citation: “The Jews — a people ‘born for slavery’”. Obviously, N. is ironic also toward the Jews, when he says: “the chosen people among peoples, as they themselves said and believed —”. We ought not to be surprised. Double edge irony is his own peculiar style. There always is a double meaning, condensed in a sentence or an aphorism. A statement and its apparent contrary. N. always deals ironically with the same ones whom he praises, as if in the same moment in which he expresses an opinion he is also self mocking because of his own admiration. Indeed, when he says: “the chosen people among peoples, as they themselves said and believed”, the sentence contains a double valuation. The Jews are to be admired because they feel the chosen people, and therefore are separated and strong — as in the afore mentioned citation — on the contrary of the weak (the flock) who strive to be together. However, at the same time he expresses a mocking irony because he is an atheist and he does not believe that there is any God around to choose anybody. N. adopted the technique of his other despised and admired master: the ironic Socrates.

As in other instances, N. does not admire the Jews because of what they say, but because of their existential attitude. He admires them because they feel the chosen people, and because he indeed does not believe that they are. In other words, the Jews invented this “chosen people” affair as an expedient and an expression of their “will to power” (Nietzsche’s der Wille zur Macht). N. inveighs at this expedient (cfr. Supra “the Jews are the most catastrophic people of world history” — The Antichrist) but at the same time he admires them because of will to power, existential strength and tenacity of survival: “the Jewish people are a people endowed with the toughest vital energy”, who survived even when “placed in impossible circumstances”. And “voluntarily and out of the most profound prudence of self-preservation, take sides with all the instincts of décadence — not as mastered by them, but because they divined a power in these instincts with which one could prevail against the world.” (Supra).

Without this expedient, and if the Jews had not substituted the Moral of Nature with the Moral of the Law, they would have perished, because Nature demands the extinction of the defeated. Hence also the definition of the Jews as a people against nature. That, too, is cause of invective and of admiration in the same condensation. The Jews found a device to be stronger than Nature’s Law. Hence the accusation of inverting values — ultimate crime of a people accused of craving to survive at any price.

My analysis is confirmed by other citations:

But the hierarchy that was called into question, if only for an instant, by this movement was the structure of piles which, above everything, was necessary to the safety of the Jewish people in the midst of the “waters” — it represented their last possibility of survival; it was the final residuum of their independent political existence; an attack upon it was an attack upon the most profound national instinct, the most powerful national will to live, that has ever appeared on earth. (The Antichrist, par 27.) The Jew is attached to life with incredible tenacity. (Early Notebooks September 1970 — January 1971, 5 [34].) The Jews are a people who loved and love life like the Greeks and more than the Greeks. (Daybreak, Book One, 72.)

Will to live” “Love for life” and “tenacity in the pursuant of survival” are the attributes that N. most uses speaking of the Jews.

We are therefore allowed to assume that the invectives directed at the Jews are not the by product of despise but of overvaluation. The same overvaluation which, as I have sustained afore, is peculiar of the ambivalent attitude of the child toward his own father.

I sustain that the Jews — in Nietzsche’s unconscious mind, as in that of the anti-Semites — represented the internal imago of his own father. As N. writes in his autobiography, My Life, he worshipped his father of an immeasurable admiration, and his death when he was still only a four year old child left a gap that cannot be filled, an enclosable void. Almost in every chapter of that book, which is a diary compiled along different periods of his life, he returns again and again on expressions of atrocious grief. He writes that his father’s death was the central and pivotal event of his entire life. Moreover, condensed with the desperation, the book is permeated with a subtle anger for his father succumbing to Nature’s dictate and not being able to survive at any price.

The invectives against the Jews and the irony are also a defence mechanism against the overvaluation that N. did, as a child, of his own father. His father was overvalued. However he had deluded, because he died. The invectives are also because of the delusion and the consequent emotional deprivation

A four year child is not capable to overcome his own father’s death. He is deprived of a pivotal point of reference, identity and anchor to his whole personality.

With the grief condenses a profound anger toward his father and, as we shall see below — toward himself.

His father deluded, dying according to the Laws of a cruel Nature which inflicted on him an unsustainable deprivation. To the father he substitutes the Jews, because at difference of his father they did not follow Nature’s Laws, but succeeded in being stronger than Nature. They survived whilst his father succumbed. Hence the invectives, but also the admiration. The Jews are a father who do not deludes. A father who survives at any price, even against Nature.

Hence the invectives against a sacerdotal caste which, inverting all values, succeeded in keeping a god who ought to have been abandoned:

The nation is grateful for the high destiny that has enabled it to obtain dominion; it is grateful for the benign procession of the seasons, and for the good fortune attending its herds and its crops. — This view of things remained an ideal for a long while, even after it had been robbed of validity by tragic blows: anarchy within and the Assyrian without. But the people still retained, as a projection of their highest yearnings, that vision of a king who was at once a gallant warrior and an upright judge — a vision best visualized in the typical prophet (i. e., critic and satirist of the moment), Isaiah. — But every hope remained unfulfilled. The old god no longer could do what he used to do. He ought to have been abandoned. But what actually happened? simply this: the conception of him was changed — the conception of him was denaturized; this was the price that had to be paid for keeping him (The Antichrist, 25)

Psychoanalytically speaking, God is always one’s own father. Nietzsche’s father was dead (“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?” — The Gay Science, 125). Here the emphasis is not only grief but guilt. When a little child is orphaned of one of his parents he always blames himself. Now, the Jews succeeded where he failed. The Jews succeeded in keeping their Father while he had abandoned him/was abandoned by him: “The old god no longer could do what he used to do (exactly as he describes his father’s illness in My Life). He ought to have been abandoned… this was the price that had to be paid for keeping him”.

At last the identification between his own father and the God of the Jews is so absolute that N displaces into the latter all the nostalgy and cravenness for intimacy he experiences for the former. Henceforth the ultimate prophecy so peculiar to the need of fulfillment of such an intense urge: “… that seventh day will come again in which the old God of the Jews will rejoice in himself, in his creation and in his chosen people, — and all, we all, shall rejoice with him” (Daybreak, Book Three, 152)

And here returns the same “chosen people” Nietzsche ironically spoke of dealing with Tacitus’quote that we found afore. But this time no more irony is perceived. Only craving and identification. To be the “chosen child” of the Father is the most common fantasy shared by all children. From Abel to Isaac and from Joseph to Jesus, they all were preferred and chosen children. Nietzsche identifies with these “chosen people” and in his fantasy rejoices with them the return of the Father, the same Father the Jews succeeded in maintaining alive against and despite all the odds of history and of nature.

  1. Nietzsche, God and the Jews, State University of New York, New York 1994. ↩︎

  2. The most comprehensive résumé that I know is in Yirmiyahu Yovel, Dark Riddle. Hegel, Nietzsche, and the Jews, Shoken Publishing House Ltd, Tel Aviv 1998. See also W. Santaniello, op.cit. and the many writings on this subject by Jacob Golomb. ↩︎