August 21, 2017 by John Bruce Leonard
Peoples and Fatherlands
READING NIETZSCHE, one cannot avoid the impression that no philosopher prior, and but few since, has ever perceived at once so clearly and so deeply the European problem. That problem might be summarized briefly and superficially thus: Europe is simultaneously unity and multitude. There is a “European spirit” as there is not, for instance, an African, an Asian, a pan-American spirit: and hence there is a singular Europe. But at the same time Europe is composed of numerous and often conflicting languages, numerous “cultures” or ethoi, deriving from numerous historical, genealogical, linguistic roots. The Europeans are one people with many fatherlands; or put otherwise, the Europeans are becoming a people with a single fatherland, process which is endangered by the continual menace of a relapse into petty and divisive nationalism. In its unity, Europe may attain to a promise it could never dream in its fragmentation: but its unity seems to come at the price of its “diversity,” its excellent richness of customs and ways. Nietzsche addresses this problem nowhere so thoroughly as in Book VIII of Beyond Good and Evil. Indeed, in this book he proposes a solution to the problem of Europe. But the problem has changed fundamentally since Nietzsche’s descent into madness, and decisively since World War II. We must seek then to give a brief exposition of Nietzsche’s view, and of the changes in light of which that view must be reconsidered in whole or in part.
The very title of Book VIII, “Peoples and Fatherlands,” gives us a sense of Nietzsche’s point of departure: he is concerned with the ethnoi of Europe and with the nations which gave birth to them, or to which they gave birth. Book VIII begins and ends with Wagner. Nietzsche writes in a musical way about his subject; his is a pan-European literature informed by Europe’s rich musical tradition—precisely the opposite influence of that which he ascribes to Europe’s latest musicians, who are “steeped in world literature” (256). “Peoples and Fatherlands” is divided into seventeen sections, with the central section (248) dedicated to the question of the “masculine and feminine” in peoples. This returns us at once to the key word fatherlands (Vaterländer): Nietzsche is concerned above all with the masculine peoples of his Europe, foremost among them Germany. But Book VIII can also be broken into three distinct parts, divided by the book’s two shortest sections (243 and 249), thus revealing a second or true center, located in the question of writing (246). The first part (240-242) treats of the European present, the “today” in Europe; the central part (244-248) treats of Germany; and the last and largest part (250-256) treats of Europe as a whole. In this last part, two sections are dedicated to the Jewish question, two to the English, one to France, and two to the relation of Germany and France, the key to the European question in Nietzsche’s day: crude, manifold, masculine Germany and super-refined, limpid, feminine France, through their marriage, might give birth to a united Europe, the “good European” being at once the match-maker and the offspring of that matrimony. Their geographical proximity renders this cultural problem into a question also of interbreeding. Nietzsche does not want to see Europe divide sharply into her constituent “identities”; though “Peoples and Fatherlands” begins on a note of nationalism, it closes with the overcoming of the same. In section 251 he indicates the reason for his opposition to nationalism: the nation in Europe “is really rather a res facta than a res nata,” a thing made rather than a thing born. It, like Europe itself, is “not yet a race,” indicating at once that the centrality of race for Nietzsche, and that races can be made. To attempt then a merely national race would be to squander opportunity. This is prelude to the idea of “Occidental Man.”
In Nietzsche’s review of the peoples of Europe, only France receives unambiguous praise—meaning the true France, the “France of taste” beneath the “noisy twaddle of the democratic bourgeois” (254). The qualities which Nietzsche ascribes to it would be lost in the “Germanization” of Europe. Nietzsche thought the French would probably fail in their resistance to Germanic influences: they had “the good will to resist and spiritual Germanization—and a still better [noch besseres] incapacity to succeed!” (Italics mine). But this “still better” suggests that their acquiescence to Germany would not be altogether for ill: “for the spiritual flattening of a people, there is a compensation, namely, the deepening of another people” (241). The better qualities of France might be transmitted to Germany; Germany might have a “feminine” aspect. The three French qualities in which the French could still take pride—and in consequence the three qualities Nietzsche might have wished upon the Germans—were her art, her “morals,” and her pan-European quality. France had a “dedication to form,” as contrasted with the tastelessness and formlessness of the German soul. The Germans “elude definition, and would on that account alone be the despair of the French” (244). This was also their strength; but that is a strength which needs molding by the plasticizing powers of the human soul. The “moralistic culture” of the French refers to the psychology of the French, their ability to “unriddle the soul,” which power the Germans lacked, but which together with German complexity might have become a quality of enormous potential. Finally, the French, for their geographical position, mark a halfway point between North and South, and are thus the natural precursors and curators of “good Europeanism.” This is revealed most viscerally in the music of Bizet, “who discovered a piece of the south of music.” There is in Wagner’s Meistersinger, by contrast, “no beauty, no south, nothing of southern and subtle brightness of sky” (240). In the last section of Book VIII, Nietzsche praises Wagner for going to Paris, and condemns him for returning to Rome. The South is equivocal; it means at once the “brightness of the Mediterranean sky” and “the way to Rome,” i.e., to Catholicism and Christianity. The Germans can access the true South, the bright South, through France alone—the English cannot access it at all (254).
Nietzsche’s overriding concern is always united Europe—surely not the “European Union” which we presently suffer (and which is as little a union as it is European), but the Europe of the “good Europeans.” This last formulation is used three times by Nietzsche, twice in quotation marks. Only the central use of the word is unambiguous or unironic—that in which Nietzsche expresses his hope that the good Europeans will “follow the sun’s example” and move into the “constellation of Hercules” (243). The good European unqualified, even as the German himself (240), is a creature of tomorrow, not today; he is the potential result of the present experiment in uniting Europe. He will, with luck, be more Herculean, stronger; he will be the “one stronger” who “will become master over the strong” (240). Nietzsche hoped for his issuance in particular from Germany, from the Gallicization of the German nature. Germany’s centrality for Nietzsche rested on three points. First, the German soul’s questionable “profundity”—which meant for Nietzsche its variety and variegation, the diversity of its origins, the complexity of its pieces and parts. The Germans were a “people of the middle in every sense” (244) which aligned them strikingly with the third virtue of the French; and they were manifold and formless, quality related to their pan-European music (245). Second, the masculinity of the German spirit was of interest to Nietzsche—the genius “which above all begets and wants to beget” (248). This married it to the feminine France; the two were to unite, though it was uncertain if they would do so happily (248). Finally, the barbarism of the German was of worth. “We Germans are still close to barbarism than are the French”—and it is clear Nietzsche does not speak here in simple and moralistic condemnation. For Europe requires, as ever has been her birthright and her special historical privilege, a new barbarism from within to bring her back from the effete mediocrity in which she wallows. But all of these hopes, this futurity of the Germans, were squandered in World War II and the fall of the Nazis. The war and its fallout have changed us, changed Europe, and made Nietzsche’s Germany of tomorrow impossible.
Germany can no longer lead the future of Europe, for Germany has been corrupted by shame at the sight of those of its traits which in Nietzsche’s eyes gave it promise. It has been rendered simple, machine-like, democratic; it is “pan-European” in the worst sense of embodying those purely negative qualities common to today’s “European”; nor would it ever countenance that which is or has been barbaric in it. Nietzsche said that the Germans are “frightening to themselves” (244)—today their shame has rendered that fear absolute. Germany has been denatured and neutered—state which she might overcome with time. But time is precisely what we do not presently have. For the single great social consequence of the Second World War—that consequence which almost more than any other has altered the face of Europe and indeed of the Occident, though almost everyone outside the New Right is blind to it—is the complete mutation of the Jewish question.
Nietzsche was throughout his life acutely aware of the Jewish question. In the present work he offers some of his most incisive commentary on it. The two sections dedicated to the Jews (250 and 251) introduce his reflections on “supra-Germanic” Europe. This indicates the extreme importance of the Jews for Nietzsche. It is indeed striking that Nietzsche should grant two entire sections of “Peoples and Fatherlands” to a people without a fatherland, while he dedicates only a single section exclusively to France. Europe, Nietzsche tells us, owes to the Jews “one thing that is both of the best and the worst”: the “grand style in morality” (250); strikingly, it is the artists who are most grateful for this, they who are masters of fiction and picturing. Intriguingly, he seems to trace the moral grand style to the Jews’ contempt of nature, including human nature (The Gay Science, 135 and 136). The Jews introduced style to Europe principally through Christianity, the vehicle of the “slave revolt in morality” (195), the great revaluation of values effected by ressentiment against the ruling classes. Nietzsche makes it clear elsewhere that this revolt deepened the human, the European, soul (see On the Genealogy of Morals, first two essays, esp. First Essay, Section 6). But it comes as well with its perils: it has brought pity to the heart and risks being harbinger of the Last Man. Therewith has come an incredible potential to Europe: “The fight against the Christian-ecclesiastic pressure of millennia… has created in Europe a magnificent tension of the spirit the like of which has never yet existed on Earth”—a tension which the good Europeans feel” (Preface. N.B., good Europeans here without quotation marks). But none of this addresses the real Jewish question: what to do with this people without a fatherland? Of the four possibilities open to such a people—haughty segregation from their host peoples, rule over their host peoples, assimilation into their host peoples, or emigration to a newly formed fatherland—Nietzsche claimed the Jews of his day wished primarily to assimilate. Nietzsche believed—writing in 1886, when it was still possible to believe such a thing—that the Jews were “not working and planning for [mastery over Europe]” (251, Italics Nietzsche’s). The foremost threat to assimilation, Nietzsche believed, was precisely anti-Semitism, and in a clear instance of what he meant by his notion of “breeding,” he wonders what might issue from the mixing of the “hereditary art of commanding and obeying” of the German nobility with the “genius of money and patience,” and the spirituality, of the Jew. It is in this context, indeed, that Nietzsche speaks for the first time of the “European problem.” As much as Nietzsche opposed the mere nationalism of his day (and with it surely also certain manifestations of “identitarianism” in our own), he opposed still more the indiscriminate mixing of races. He willed the conscious creation of the “good European,” and he is clear that the bid for mastery of the Jews would complicate if not obviate this. But, not to speak of any prior changes in Europe, the Holocaust has of course brought precisely that end: it has been a stringent spur to the Jews to regroup and retrench, and a potent weapon for them to employ toward the cowing and overmastering of West. Today, the Jew wants to rule in the West; today, one can almost say, he already does rule.
Nietzsche was no stranger to this possibility (see Dawn, 205). He tended to see in it even great promise, for he was acutely aware of the qualities of the Jews. But in all cases in which he speaks with optimism of such an event, he presupposes always a conscious mixing of the Jewish with the European—a willful submersion, a painstaking assimilation of the one into the other—either toward the spiritualization of the latter or the ennobling of the former. What he did not foresee is that the Jewish influence might come via America—that greenest, least spiritual, and above all vulgarest and most ignoble of all the Western fatherlands. The specific form of Jewish rule thus has been exceptionally demeaning. It has accompanied the decimation of the old European aristocracies via the War, and the subsequent democratization of Europe, with the attendant success of capitalism—which could not do other than accent the Jewish “genius for money” to the detriment of the superior spirituality or “moralism” of Judaism. It is characterized by the radical reorientation of the rapport between Europeans and Jews: the shame and obsequiousness of the one group, and the invincible mistrust and concealed will to power of the other. We who are confronted with this reality must battle it—particularly as it becomes increasingly clear that the present “ruling class” has every intention of eliminating the peoples of the West, of eliminating us, by means of indiscriminate breeding with non-European peoples, whether as a form of revenge or precaution or greed, it is sometimes impossible to say. Far from representing the cultivation or emergence of a new European ruling class, this can represent only the absolute obliteration of its possibility. We have become almost totally powerless to stem the flood of non-Western peoples into Europe and America which has been prepared. A new project is urgently in order.
The healthy man atimes knows not the nature of health—until he falls prey to illness. In disease, in degeneration, the true standards might become clear in a way they could not when they were merely presupposed; and in the present malady, perhaps even moribundity, of the West, we must relearn, or learn for the first time, our Occidental virtue, for the benefit of a future Occidental Man.
We cannot look for rebirth solely to the Germans nor to the French, the classic heart of Europe, for the simple reason that these two countries more than any others have been compromised by the taint of the Holocaust. Try as we might to reclaim the World War II “narrative,” the shame is too deeply inscribed in the hearts of those peoples. They have learned with absolute obedience to equate democracy, liberalism, egalitarianism with the the loveable, the desirable, the good, and Nazism, aristocracy, elitism, racialism with the hateable, the bad, that which should be avoided and medicated against like the plague itself. They suffer from profound moral paralysis. Those individuals who escape the pressure will be the rare few; as peoples the French and the Germans cannot be expected to lead. And this to speak only of the “moral,” not the psychological and generational damage done by the war. Something can be hoped from certain “fringe nations” of Europe—as Hungary well demonstrates—and also from Italy, whose vital spiritual resilience, whose furbizia, whose realism in politicis et artibus and keenness of cynical and proud intellect renders her resistant to gross moralistic kant and to vergogna of the deeper or stupider kind. These countries might indeed become avenues for the rise of a new Europeanism or an Occidental ideal. But the scope of their action will be somewhat limited for a number of reasons, not least of all for the linguistic. For a sufficiently wide front it seems to me we must look instead to that source which Nietzsche for excellent reasons most scorned—namely, the Anglo-Saxon countries. The English and the Americans in particular represent the first shadows of a pan-European type. They are themselves, and ever more, the results of a wide admixing of the Europeans; they are a first attempt, blind, haphazard, unconscious, aimless, even misled, even deceived, to produce “Occidental Man.” More, they were the enemies of the Nazis and the Fascists in the War, which might given them, if only they knew to manipulate it a little, a degree of immunization from the moralistic bludgeon of the Holocaust. That they have so far revealed no such immunity is due to a variety of factors, not least of all the originating role they played in the Enlightenment, but also to this: that, being the victors of a long and terrible battle, these peoples tend to demonize their enemies even in retrospect. The English, who suffered the war on their very shores, are more susceptible to this difficulty. The Americans are somewhat shielded, as ever, by the armor of distance. One can barely hope for any kind of political movement from these nations in a more favorable direction—so far as politics goes, it would be well to turn to the fatherlands hereabove noted—but it seems to me one must for the time being place the political question on an altogether secondary plane. We must do what we may in politics, even while realizing that the prime field of our labor is for the nonce another: what is of the essence is rather the shaping of our peoples as peoples amidst the rubble which daily accumulates around them.
Nietzsche’s critique of the English applies even more acutely to the Americans, who are in large part but the extension and extremification of the English character and English ethos. Nietzsche says of the English that they are “gloomier, more sensual, stronger in will, and more brutal than the Germans” (252). That is to say—they are more barbaric than the Germans. But the barbarism of the Germans is indicated by Nietzsche to be a quality in their favor, toward the reclamation of European vitality. It is therefore not wrongheaded to hope that this barbarism precisely might favor a liberation from the present moralistic labyrinth into which we have been plummeted—not by subtly seeking the route of escape, which is often beyond the power of those who would attempt it, but rather by bursting asunder the very walls. But this is of value only as it is supplemented: for the English suffer definite shortcomings which are particularly un-European. Nietzsche indicates two of the greatest: they are unphilosophical, and they are unmusical. They lack “power of spirituality, real profundity of spiritual perception.” This pushes them, by Nietzsche’s diagnosis, into the arms of a crude Christianity.
Nietzsche is speaking here surely not only of the masses, but also of the best souls to come of the English fatherland. Nor is he necessarily speaking of Christianity as a doctrinal credo: there is little enough “true faith” in Locke, Hobbes, Smith, or Hume. Theirs is rather a tendency toward the Christian morality—“Rome’s faith without the word (Rom’s Glaube ohne Worte)” (256). The root cause of this is a lack of profundity. Now, the English are indisputably a people of letters. Their great and special art has always been literature in its various forms, compared to which their few masters in the other arts (as Lord Leighton in painting and Purcell in music) appear few and far between. This cultural peculiarity is connected more to the language or the ethos than it is to the land, as is indicated by the fact some of the deepest writers in English in the past few hundred years have been primarily Irish and American. So far as the last group goes, one is obliged to mention Melville, Thoreau, Henry James, Faulkner, Wallace Stevens, names whose Christian and Christianizing tendency is dubious at best, save ambiguously in the case of Faulkner. America has produced its great men despite itself, has almost exclusively scorned and misunderstood them, and often forced them into exile—abroad or at home. Nothing is so depressing for an American as reading the biographies of America’s greatest sons. But these Americans have shown the way despite all that stood against them: they have shown above all that a new kind of writing could arise precisely from the ground of the English tongue, which is rich and deep for the multiplicity of its origins. English is steeped in all the many destinies of Europe. English has become the lingua franca of the West by right, not by accident. It is the greatest task of those who write in this language today to work toward the acquisition of, perhaps even the creation of, the mastery of a grand style, deep as it is high, modeled perchance on the Greeks more than on the Latins, but in any case taking as its aim a new pan-European style. Santayana, that truly Spanish-American, and the anglicized Pole Joseph Conrad also give some indications of what this might mean. The problem is of no mean importance—as Nietzsche indicates by pointing to the centrality of language and literature in the core, and also final, sections of his book.
So far as the Anglo-Saxon’s musical talents go—I confess, here the prospects grow grimmer yet. England has never been much blessed by the graces of music, America still less (fact reducible perhaps to the brutality of the American tongue), and both have on their conscience the aural plague, the vulgar sentimentality, the spiritual and aesthetic ugliness of “pop music.” Nonetheless, it speaks favorably of the English that they produced two of the great 20th century composers capable of resisting the abstract, disembodied, bloodless “music” of Schoenberg’s school—I mean Elgar and Britten. Hardly can we hope here for a “supra-European music” of the kind that Nietzsche dreams in 255—fully half of Elgar’s “In the South,” for instance, is every bit as much a misunderstanding as Schumman’s Manfred—but that to my mind reflects the wretched, the possibly irredeemable state of music today, which is due as much to our general cultural decadence. It may well be that Nietzsche’s diagnosis in The Case of Wagner is unhappily correct: as he puts it in the Second Postscript, “From the rule that corruption is on top, that corruption is fatalistic, no god can save music,” which he indicates is due to the rigorous physiological basis of music as an art. The “new music,” this contemporary hodgepodge, this muddy medley, this bog-like, colorless contemporary cacophony which appears to be the prime heir of our peerless classic tradition, is divorced utterly from the body. One can do anything with such music except dance to it. Even before Schoenberg, modern music called this its “liberation.” It is thus clear that before the redemption of music one needs a redemption of the people; one needs a new race, an Occidental race. The dangerous propensity of English and Americans to encourage interbreeding appears potentially favorable in this regard, if only it were done with a little intention and discrimination (traits, alas, which one can certainly not much hope from the contemporary Anglo-Saxon). For instance, the characteristic attraction of the Anglo-Saxon soul for the south, for la bella Italia but also for the American Deep South, bespeaks to my eyes a certain residual soundness of instinct that we would do well to encourage. If there is any immediate hope for music, it is in literature, in precisely the opposite movement of which Nietzsche speaks in 256. There have already been gestures in this direction (consider Poe, Aldous Huxley, Yeats, Joyce), and the poetry especially of the English has often been of masterful sonority. English as a language is phonetically more feminine than many other languages. All of this can and should be contemplated by whomever would really compose in English.
There is a certain justice in the fact that the fate of Europe falls now disproportionately on Anglophones, if not Anglo-Saxons: it was the English and through them the Americans to introduce this “damnable Anglomania of modern ideas” (253). It should then be theirs by right, if not by duty, to take it back. The requisites are theirs, in body and in tongue: one wants only the wakefulness, the spirit, the will, the vision. The English language itself might indicate the way to us toward the subverting of the Enlightenment through the preparation for the Occident. The influence of the rabble must be overcome first in our speech, through the same ruthless discrimination we would apply to the ethnic forces now assailing Europe and to the moral dissolution even now rending at our souls. We can prepare the way, for the first time consciously, for a High English. We have the possibility of making, not so much some Platonic “city in speech,” as a new European people in speech.
Well would it be for us to consider our plight artistically. A time is fast upon us in which the greatness of our task will have to be met with an a enormous inner strength, which, alas, we have too many reasons to doubt in ourselves.
For surely, these are not simple days, nor easy times. No meager challenges face us. In our day, European democracy—better say, with greater precision, Enlightenment liberalism—is drawing its ultimate conclusions. There are many ways of characterizing this fateful occurrence, but in the context of the European problem we might phrase it thus: the “Enlightenment” has made Western man smallest and most fragmented at precisely that historical moment he has most need of being mightiest and most unified. He has been strapped to a secret wheel of Ixion, subjected to the influence of elements foreign to his soul, which moreover have no love for him and which would gladly dilute him out of existence. He is cowed by shame, belittled by unworthy appetites, demeaned by the ready ease of feeding them. He is surrounded each day the more by newcomers arrived from distant lands, who are physiologically haler (because simpler, crasser) and ideologically cleaner and more resolved than he. He has been uprooted at every turn, distanced from all those fertile values of fixed community by which he might have been nourished to strength. His high culture has been sterilized, his soul vulgarized, his heart slaked and his spirit slackened. The conditions are ripe for his utter and final extermination from this globe which he once ruled in the perfect naïvette of his right, and which he has in countless respects rendered more beautiful and nobler. But in these very conditions are precisely the conditions also for his renewal: namely, the danger and the pain to awaken his slumbering mind, the trial to test and harden these atrophied muscles, the enemies to unite him to his kith and kin in common cause—the very calamity in which his spirit may learn again to soar, lest it drown. A new birth is possible today, a birth by fire—if no longer for Irishman and Italians, Austrians and Gauls, then for something higher, something stronger yet.
We Occidentals, despite the last century, stand but at the urgent extremity of the situation foreseen by Nietzsche. The dragons about us, if they do not devour us in their flames, must perforce make of us knights again; they might spur us to rebuild our kingdom and our many castles, outposts, and watchtowers. This will have its cost, first and foremost in “identity”—for we cannot go back altogether or all at once to the old rainbow-like divisions between a hundred tribes in which Europe could once count her riches and her wealth. The differences and distinctions between peoples and fatherlands have already given way. Whether we lament this fact—and there is much in it to lament—it stands before our very eyes as a fait accompli. Go whither you will in this our Occident: your ears will hear many languages, but your eyes will always see a single human type. Some variance, I allow, for broad phenotypes and customs—differences between North and South, between East and West—but everyone everywhere will dress alike, will speak alike in their various tongues and dialects, will think alike, will agree as to the fundamental things. Those inescapable and profound differences of manners and mores which might have persuaded our forefathers to war with one another have all but vanished. The fact is a certain kind of uniformity, hope or dream what you will for the morrow. And given the plight of the West—who at present could really hope or dream for anything else? I agree, it is in countless cases monotonous, poor, dull, tedious, even regrettable, even in some cases detestable—particularly in its present manifestation of the “consumer culture” of our “good democrats,” in this slavish and abhorrent Americanization of Europe—and for anyone with nostalgia in his heart, the times are nigh intolerable. It is to be hoped that the old identities once more begin to root in the soul, and that one may look forward to a future European federation which unites, in large political formations, a great many and greatly different human communities throughout Europe. One may hope, that is, that Europe can find a way of preserving her truest diversity, without compromising her political and social solidarity. But let us console ourselves, if we cannot rejoice in all these changes, that this present razing in the common life of the European and indeed the Western masses, has perhaps made possible for the first time the spiritual unification of we higher Occidentals in a single front against the enemies which now menace us with obliteration—
That is yet a hope. It may remain but a hope; it may be that there is no tomorrow for this West, but already Europe has “gone under” in such a way that she cannot rise again. There is no “today” in the West, that much is clear. There is still less of a “today” now, than there was in Nietzsche’s time, which already had reached such extremities that he occasionally permitted himself to doubt the future. And he had yet to gaze into the actual incarnate face of the Last Man. Can we say as much? But in truth, we do not know; for blessedly, the very question indicates that the matter has not been settled, that there is still some possibility for us, some promise yet left to Europe, some dream still rattling about in this hollowed Occident, which might lead us hither and over, which might grant us the fortitude, the valor, the power, to see Europa rise again—for the first time.