Saturday, January 04, 2014

The Philosophical Causes of History

Nietzsche and the NazisNietzsche and the Nazis 
by Stephen R.C. Hicks

In the middle of December I attended a solstice celebration with some friends.  During this gathering we played a gift giving game where gifts were traded anonymously.  The game was a lot of fun and better yet I chose this book as my gift.  Thanks go to my friend Don Parrish who contributed this book to the game and made my choice possible.

I read the book almost immediately after receiving it but I have had difficulty gathering my thoughts and deciding how to review it, not because the book itself was difficult to read; but because I was unsure how to approach this small jewel of a book. I decided to lay out some of the reasons why I both think highly of this book and like it as well.

Looking at its title, Nietzsche and the Nazis, I wondered what kind of book is this. Is it history, biography, some combination of both with sociology, or something else? The subtitle, "A Personal View", suggests that the author will inject his own personal opinions into the narrative in some manner. Looking at the Table of Contents we find that it is in fact something else; namely a book primarily about philosophy. In fact, the first three parts of the book have philosophy in their titles. This is one of the reasons I like the book. Books about philosophy appeal to me; especially well-written and well-reasoned books like this one.

The introduction identifies the aim of this book by highlighting how people in general tend to have an interest in history, and then briefly defining the philosophy of history. The author describes the philosophical perspective of history as one that "is a huge laboratory of experiments in human living." (p 3) The book specifically focuses on one "major experiment" in the twentieth century, the rise of the Nazis.
The remainder of the book methodically and very efficiently tells about the nature of Nazism: its philosophy, National Socialism's programs, and the effective means that the Nazis used while in power over the Third Reich. The discussion of the Nazis is then contrasted with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. His life and influence is told through discussion of philosophical concepts that were key in his work such as nihilism, the death of God, the slave mentality, and the "overman". Having laid out the ideas of the Nazis and those of Nietzsche the book's climax presents the important differences between Nietzsche's thought and Nazism. This includes a discussion of ways in which Nietzsche's thought can be seen as a precursor of Nazism; they agree in such key areas as anti-individualism, anti-reason, and authoritarianism.

The book is excellent in several respects. It has a clarity of purpose and a logical structure. The principles of both the National Socialists and Nietzsche are well defined; in addition the conclusion highlights those principles which oppose the Nazis. This approach lets readers make their own decision about which principles they stand for. There are also helpful appendices that highlight relevant quotations on the ideas presented. If you are fascinated by history this book is a great place to discover both the reasons for one of the most important episodes in the history of the modern world and why each of us need to understand those reasons.

Nietzsche and the Nazis: A Personal View by Stephen R. C. Hicks. Ockham's Razor Publishing, 2010 (2006).


Brian Joseph said...

Sounds fascinating. I am particularly interested in history and somewhat interested in Nietzsche.

Without a doubt some of his ideas influenced the NAZIs greatly. Of course his ideas influenced lots of modern movements.

Though I vigorously disagree with many of his precepts, I think I also think that he often gets a bad rap as being a kind of proto - NAZI. I think that he would have personally despised the NAZIs for several reasons. Not the least of which is the fact that many of his writings he heaped massive scorn at anti semitism and anti semites.

James said...

Thanks for your insights. Dr. Hicks includes the difference with the Nazis you mention along with four others in his discussion of Nietzsche's thought.
However, he also highlights five similarities Nietzsche's thought has with the Nazis including his "anti-democratic, anti-capitalistic, and anti-liberal" views.
All in all the book is a good overview and starting point for thinking about the Nazis and their philosophical background.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review, Jim. I appreciate it. Best,

James said...

Thanks for your comment. I enjoyed the book very much and have reviewed it at Amazon, LibraryThing, Shelfari and Goodreads.

M. said...

Does the author discuss the case of Martin Heidegger, for whom Nietzsche was absolutely central, and who eagerly embraced Nazism and its racial ideology?

James said...

Yes indeed. The author has a detailed footnote on pp 32-33 discussing Heidegger's support for Nazism. The author states "historical research has demonstrated beyond doubt Heidegger's early enthusiasm for National Socialism." He goes on to discuss Heidegger's continuing support in an effort to maintain his university position.
The specific source cited is Thomas Rohkramer's article "Martin Heidegger, National Socialism, and Environmentalism".
More detailed commentary by Dr. Hicks on this issue may also be found on-line at: