Monday, December 21, 2015

Robert Holub's book on Nietzsche and anti-semitism

I review it at the New Rambler.  The book gets some remarkable endorsements on the dustjacket from historians, though historians, I fear, who didn't know much about Nietzsche and didn't read the book too carefully.


Guy Elgat said...

Thank you, Brian, for this review. It was very informative.

To me it seems that Nietzsche was an Anti-Semite malgré lui: he was rightly disgusted by it, rightly struggled to fight it, but he sometimes just could not hold it down.

An instance of this which I recently read again is this: "We would not want to associate with the 'first Christians' any more than with Polish Jews...not that you would even need to raise any objections...Neither of them smells good...'(Anti-Christ, 46).

This is not an unpublished remark in a note which, upon consideration, was discarded. Neither can it be attributed to some juvenile infatuation with the cult of Wagner. And it is not a "coded" remark of some sort. This is an expression of Nietzsche's mature and considered judgment and taste. And if this is not antisemitism then I don't know what is.

The question whether antisemitism informs (to some extent or other) his more substantial core philosophical views is of course a different issue which this specific quotation does not address.

Brian Leiter said...

Sorry I missed this comment and it took so long to appear. The Antichrist is pretty clearly a work of incipient madness, so it seems odd to me to describe it as a "mature and considered judgment." It's telling that this is the only remark like this in the entire published corpus.

Guy Elgat said...

Hi Brian,
Thanks for the response.

By "mature" I meant that it was written by Nietzsche at the prime of his life, and by "considered" I meant that it comes from an authorizes manuscript - something Nietzsche prepared for publication, not some scrap in a notebook jotted down in a moment of passion.

The "incipient madness" defense, I think, is risky, for it threatens to take down all the other 1888 works with it. (Alternatively, one could run the argument that it is precisely the breaking down of his mental faculties that is responsible for his inability to repress his true sentiments!)

You may be right that this is the only remark of its kind in the published corpus, but this only shows that he was not a "committed" and vociferous anti-Semite. I don't think it affects my claim that he harbored anti-Semite sentiments which he fought against, held down or sublimated.

Brian Leiter said...

1888 was not the "prime" of Nietzsche's life! The reason for thinking The Antichrist reflects incipient madness has to do with its overall content; it is easy to distinguish from the other works of 1888 in that regard. The one point I agree with is that the rude remark about Polish Jews probably does reflect less repression of the casual anti-Semitism from the 1870s, which Holub documents and which clearly exists.