Nietzsche and the Modern Germany


Nietzsche and the Modern Germany



Since the very start of the war we have had many an attempt made to discern the spiritual fathers of modern Germany and to explain the origins of its fierceness and brutality, its unrestrained and unenlightened will to might.1  In these riddles of the mystery of modern Germany, each has begun to come up with his own account of where to lay the blame for those manifestations of spirit, which generally he has regarded as despicable and false. Pointed out as culprits in all the ugliness to begin with is Luther and Protestantism, and then Kant and critical philosophy, then Marx and economic materialism, then Nietzsche and the teaching about the superman. Others even reach back to the old German mysticism and already in Eckhardt they see the seed of that which will grow ultimately into the present-day world war. In Ern,2  with his typical frenzied and blind and monolineal manner, he ties in Kant with Krupp, with the facile levity of doctrinaire a mindset, overlapping all the obstacles along the way. To Kant he draws a direct line from Eckhardt and Luther. Ern goes about this abstract pounding upon Germanism by means of the wonts and habits purely of German thinking, investing the matter with concepts and ideas, and not with life in its multiplicity and individuality. It thus comes close to the plan of war constructed by General Pfuel in “War and Peace”. But we have grown weary of the doctrinaire scene and should instead desire to turn pervasively into the individuality of actuality.

That tree of life, which can be termed Germany, grew and blossomed both in the individual and in the manifold. This tree has also borne some disfigured fruit. But the growth and blossoming forth of life never transpires in accord with the fulfilling of monolineal doctrines and their deductive conclusions. Only in abstract thought does it occur thus, that if Luther be a given, then by the power of incontrovertible deduction obtains also the modern German militarism. In life nothing like this happens thus, and it makes a mockery of it all. In life not only is German militarism not a legitimate offspring of Luther, but even Lutheranism itself is not his legitimate offspring. Since, truly it can be said, that Lutheranism is altogether incommensurate with such an immense phenomenon, as Luther, and altogether unanticipated as well. On the surface aspect of history it seems, that a great man, a creative individuality, begets a sort of massive historical phenomenon. But in the depths of life, in the authentic actuality, there is nothing the like. St. Francis did not create Franciscanism, nor Luther — Lutheranism, nor Tolstoy — Tolstoyanism, nor Nietzsche — Nietzscheanism. And that what on the surface level of history is given the name of Christianity, was not created by Jesus Christ. There is full an incommensurability between the creative act of a great creator from that, which is begotten through the refractive distortion within the gravity of the world, within the gravity of history, within the gravity of the masses. Here is why it is so difficult to unriddle the secret of history, to view at the depths its creative motion. Here too is why it is necessary to have a great intuitive delicacy and great psychological pervasiveness in determining the spiritual sources of modern Germany, in explaining its baseness and fallenness.


It pains one to see, how low-fallen at present is the proffering of a coarse, doctrinaire and superficial attitude towards the life of F. Nietzsche. It has revealed a very facile and shallow means of explaining away modern Germany and all its ugly aspects. Nietzsche preached the will to power, he taught about the superman, who has to stand beyond this side of good and evil and be fierce. Nietzsche extolled the spirit of war. But is he not the spiritual father of the German aggressive militarism? Has he not made fierce the hearts of Germans? Are not the Prussian junkers the authentic Nietzscheans? Truly the fate of Nietzsche after death was still more tragic and unfortunate, than during life. At one point all sorts among the vulgar suddenly and conceitedly tended to conceive of themself as Zarathustras and supermen, and the memory of Nietzsche was defiled by its popularity amongst the herd element. The herd began to march as though single supermen, fancying, that to them all is permitted. The proud, heroic, austhere and severe spirit of Zarathustra was consigned to mockery. Enfeebled decadents, bereft of their higher “I” and indulging their lower “I”, grabbed hold of Nietzsche and began to term themselves Nietzscheans. Clasping onto Nietzsche were also those, who had a will to plunder, to power and profit across the plains of the earth. At the present historical hour Nietzsche has appeared to be one of the guilty for the world war, for the German aggressive militarism and the German brutalities. And the connection of Krupp with Nietzsche seems more plausible, than the connection of Krupp with Kant. It is very easy to quote in light of such an opinion several citations from Zarathustra. “The benefit of war sanctifies every aim”. “Love peace, as a means to new wars”. Thus spake Zarathustra. And Zarathustra did not love the good and the just. “Be fierce”, — he taught. And furthermore he taught “to shove the falling”. It has appeared all too tempting to see in the Germans, with their having discovered such a fierce will to power and so sanctifying by war every end, as the fulfillers of the commands of Zarathustra. And yet all the same I know of nothing more monstrous in its inner untruth, than to connect Nietzsche with the modern militaristic Germany. This means — to read the alphabetic letters, without understanding the meaning of the words. They know Nietzsche only through certain fragmented aphorisms, turned round in reverse and filled with shoddy nuances, they read through and ponder on too little in him, and sense not his spirit and his fate. “Thus Spake Zarathustra” — is a great symbolic book. In it — “the profundity, this depth by day is scarcely evident”. The words of Zarathustra need to be able to be unraveled. When Zarathustra says “war” — this nowise means Krupp cannons. When he says “the will to power”, — this does not mean territorial seizures for the German empire. When he says “be fierce”, — this does not mean German atrocities in Kalisz [alt. Kalisch, Poland] and Louvain [Belgium]. About this it would be awkward even to speak — this is so elementary, since even those who earlier held to the view that they profoundly understand Nietzsche, have not lowered themself to such a street-bazaar understanding of him. But what can happen on the streets and the bazaars with the words of Zarathustra, who dwelt upon the lofty mountains? True indeed, Nietzsche is altogether unnecessary for Wilhelm, he can finely make war with his “old god”, more compliant, than Zarathustra. With this “old god” much blood has already been spilt and many a brutality and atrocity has transpired amidst its conniving and approval.

Prussian junkerism — is the herd, the mob, hating Nietzsche, alien to him, and from which he fled to the heights. From Nietzsche nothing, decisively nothing is derivable for this mob; he nowise at all instructs state civil matters and politics, it is impossible to fashion any sort of politics from him, impossible to conduct any sort of war in the societal-historical, commonplace sense of the word. He is totally oriented towards the creative individuality, towards its path and its fate. Is it possible to base upon Nietzsche that societal and state discipline, of which modern Germany is so proud, to base the discipline of the masses upon the teachings of the solitary madman Nietzsche? Modern Germany is first of all a mechanisation of the masses, i.e. something absolutely polar, absolutely contrary to the spirit of Nietzsche. The mass organisation — herein is the pathos of modern Germany, here is in what it has been successful at. In the old Germany there was many a creative individuality, something which has dried up in the modern Germany, and Nietzsche the romantic has rather something more in common with the old Germany, though it be in the cult of genius. But it is needful also to note, that Nietzsche did not love the Germans, he always stressed, that he was a Slav, Polish, he denied in Germany the existence of authentic culture and he loved French culture, as the sole one within Europe. He fled from Schopenhauer and Wagner to Montaigne and Stendhal. He aspired towards the sun, towards the south, he espoused a religion of the sun. Truly in the spirit of Nietzsche there was more of the Slav, than the German: in him there is something end-like, final, already flown beyond the bounds of culture, going beyond the religious limit, akin to our Dostoevsky. And how close Nietzsche was, by his pathos, to the Russian religious searchings!


German militarism — is an ultimate victory of the herd, the ultimate perishing of individuality, the triumph of that spirit, against which Zarathustra stood. German militarism — is a path not from man to the superman, but from man down to the beastly herd, to pre-human a condition upon the basis of highly mechanical a civilisation. Was this indeed the path of Zarathustra? Zarathustra — is the path of Man and the tragic fate of Man, of the human spirit in its ascent to the heights. This — is a thankless and heroic path, in which man takes upon himself all the burden of suffering and all the difficulty of passage along as yet undisclosed mountain passes. In Zarathustra there is a spirit grasping towards the heights, there is a mountainous austherity, sacrificial in its unique asceticism. On this path there is no animal warmth, no cuddling back into the collective, the many comforts of the lowlands, of the flatlanders life. This path repels many, and it is possible religiously to reject it. But it is monstrous, unjust and simply unthinkable to make a comparison between Nietzsche and the modern German militarism with its ultimate dissolution of man into the herd. Nietzsche, who participated as an orderly during the Franco-Prussian War of 1871, with disgust speaks about the self-conceit, which occurred in the Germans after their victory. What would he say now? The self-conceited swinishness of the modern Germans would evoke loathing in him. Nietzsche, certainly, was not a pacifist, and indeed he need not be. Dostoevsky sang hymns to the spirit of war in quite more literal a sense, than did Nietzsche. The martial and triumphant pathos of Nietzsche is profoundest a manifestation of spirit, and not a preaching of Prussian militarism. He had no desire to beget super-junkers. “If ye cannot be zealous strivers of knowledge, then in extreme measure be its warriors”. “Seek out your enemy, seek not his soldier to know — but rather his thoughts!” “I call you not to labour, but to struggle. I call you not to peace, but to victories. Let your toil be struggle and your peace victorious!” “It is fine to be brave”. Here is what Zarathustra spake. He taught about war, about struggle and the victory of the brave, as the path towards the supra-human condition, as the surmounting of the merely human condition. This — is a forging of the will, a steeling of the spirit, an eternal symbolism of spiritual power and firmness. And may God grant us this power and firmness.

Why do they fail to remember about the attitude of Zarathustra towards the “new idol”, the state? Those, who do remember, would scarcely tend to connect German imperialism with Nietzsche. “The state is called the coldest of all cold monsters. It coldly utters the lie, and the lie creeps forth from its mouth. An admixture of good and evil in all tongues: this sign I give you, as the sign of the state. Truly, this sign signifies the will to death”. “There all, the good and the bad, imbibe the venom: the state — there, where all the good and the bad lose themself; the state is there, where the slow suicide of all is called life”. “Behold, how they scamper about, these nimble monkeys! They leapfrog about one after the other and therefore then wind up on the dirt and in the abyss. They all want to attain mastery of the heights: it is a folly of theirs, that they could be happy to sit upon these heights! Often the dirt sits upon them — and often the same they sit upon the dirt”. “Foul an odour issues from their idol, from this cold monster, and foul an odour issues from all these servants of the idol… break ye quick the windows and dart out into the pure air”. “Stands free yet still the earth for great souls. Many yet still is the place for the solitaries and for those, who live double; there waft fragrant the quiet seas. Manifest still free is the free life for great souls”. “There, where ends the state, begins first the man, who is not superfluous”. Here thus was how Zarathustra spake concerning the new idol — the state. But modern Germany worships this new idol. And truly foul is the odour that issues forth from German imperialism. And repulsive to Zarathustra is this idol. Zarathustra brands disdainful a stigma upon the will to power of the modern Germans, the will to power in worshipping the new idol. “The dirt sits upon their summits — and often the same they sit upon the dirt”. It is a different will to power that Zarathustra preached, a will to power there, where “free stands now the earth for great souls”, “where waft fragrant the quiet seas”. With disgust Zarathustra shunned the modern culture of the large cities and set off to the heights. Everything, that modern Germany loves — the state, the industrial success, the mechanical civilisation, the leveling down, the organised masses, the disciplined masses, — all this was hateful to Zarathustra. He loved individuality in its tragic fate, he loved creativity, he loved sacrifice, he loved all that, which is not in modern Germany. Where is the evident virtue of the modern Germans?


Nietzsche never indeed created Nietscheanism and is not to blame, that in the bazaars they speak concerning him. It is impossible to be a disciple and follower of Nietzsche, for Nietzsche — was no pastor, no shepherd. He — reflects great a fate, a complete in itself artistic manifestation. One who has sensed and experienced his fate, will have known his significance for the world and for the fate of mankind. But from his teachings it is impossible to make any sort of societal usage. Zarathustra cautioned his would-be disciples and followers, those, who assured him earlier, to be like him, i.e. to become Nietzscheans, — he cautioned them that they did not know the fate of Nietzsche.

To transform into Nietzscheans the power-loving Prussian junkers and the rapacious German bourgeoise — this is a final insult to the memory of Nietzsche, making a mockery of his suffering fate.

German imperialism and German militarism are just as incommensurate with the spiritual life of Nietzsche, the same as they are incommensurate with the spiritual life of Eckhardt. The tragedy of Germanism — is namely in this incommensurability of the profoundly individual manifestations of the German spirit in contrast to the collective and massive manifestations of the German state and societal aspects. The German spirit has failed to inspire the German historical flesh. The German spirit has served the world only by its creative individualities, and not by its societal-historical fate. Germanism has never sought nor does seek a rightful truth, and in the period of its societal-state maturity has gone the path of the cult of power. In this the Germanic world is profoundly the opposite of the Slavic world, in which is lodged the seeking of a societal and universal right truth, of the City of God. And among the German social democrats the ideals of power have always predominated over the ideals of rightful truth. The moral pathos of the Germans has always been purely individualistic. And in Germany there is always a disconnect between the heights of its creative individualities, and the baseness of its phillistine masses, formerly powerless, and now invested with power.

For us, as Russians, during these difficult days, I would wish there be a noble and free attitude towards everything valuable and universal in the German spirit and German spiritual culture. We, as Slavs — are of a different spirit, we cannot and we ought not only not be slaves, but also not to be disciples of the Germans. We have our own tasks in the world. But it would not be good, will not be a fine thing, if a slave-like attitude towards German culture, which would bode ill for the Russians, instead gets replaced by a slave-like pogromme against German culture. A slaves revolt is just as vile, as is the cringing submission of slaves. We shall be free. A noble attitude towards the enemy uplifts: this — is a virtue of the strong. And in German culture there is no phenomenon more transnational, more all-human in its significance, than the phenomenon of Nietzsche. And out of love for my native land I would wish, that within Russian people might be certain of the virtues of Zarathustra: a bestowing virtue, a creative exuberance, nobility, manliness, a solar quality, a proudly ascendant spirit. We have long and far gone down. It is time, it is time already to begin to ascend, to pass over from the life of the vast plains to the life of the heights. And in this ascending will be revealed to us an other, a mysterious visage of Christ, of Whom so passionately was sought the soul of the great blindman Nietzsche.

N. A. Berdyaev.

©  2011  by translator Fr. S. Janos

(1915 – 189 – en)

NITSSHE  I  SOVREMENNAYA  GERMANIYA.  Article originally published in the newspaper “Birzhevye vedomosti”, 4 feb. 1915, No. 14650. Republished in the anthology of N. Berdyaev articles entitled, “Padenie svyaschennogo russkogo tsarstva, Publitsistika 1914-1922”, Izdatel’stvo Astrel’, Moskva, 2007, p. 282-288.

1 The best and most profound of everything written about Germany currently, — is the article of D. Koigen [David, 1879-1933], “The Tragedy of Germanism”, in “Severni zapiski” for December.

2 Vide: “Russkaya mysl'” for December. Ern infers the rise of Krupp [the German military industrial firm] from the phenomenalism of Kant. But moreso extreme a nominalism is a trait of the English, and hence it is in England that Krupp ought to be.