Beyond Good and Evil | Study Guide

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

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Beyond Good and Evil | Part 8 : Peoples and Fatherlands | Summary



Chapter 8 is a discourse on the "races" of Europe—but what Nietzsche means by races is primarily what modern people would call ethnicities and nationalities. He begins with his old sparring partner—the operatic composer and pseudo-philosopher Richard Wagner, about whom Nietzsche has already said many negative things by the time he wrote Beyond Good and Evil. Nonetheless, he accords Wagner qualified praise and says his music "expresses best" what Nietzsche thinks about Germans: they belong to both the past and the future. After some preliminary statements about nationalism, which he calls "fatherlandishness" and "soil addiction," he turns to the democratization of Europe. This "democratic movement" is causing Europeans to become more like one another. These new conditions are leading to the "leveling" of the European, who is becoming more mediocre but also more useful as a "herd animal"—meaning easier to control and manipulate. At the same time, this leveling will also produce some "exceptional human beings of the most dangerous and attractive quality"—meaning free spirits.

The first race Nietzsche considers in depth is the Germans, and much of what he says is not flattering. He calls the German soul "manifold, of diverse origins." As a people, they are a "monstrous mixture and medley of races," he says, with a "preponderance of the pre-Aryan element," meaning barbarian. He jokes that they are incomprehensible and more frightening to themselves than to other people. Germans see themselves as always in the process of becoming or developing. This is a governing concept for them, that "united with German beer and German music," is trying to "Germanize the whole of Europe." He gives a brief critique of some prominent German musicians but then adds that the German race has no ear for good prose.

Nietzsche prefaces his remarks about races other than Germans by saying there are two types of geniuses—the one who "begets" and the one who "wants to beget." The same can be said for peoples. Those peoples whom he equates with "forming, maturing, and perfecting" (as with pregnancy and birth) are the Greeks and the French (the feminine races). He identifies the masculine races (who want to fertilize and create "new orders of life") as the Jews, Romans, and possibly the Germans. He stops to single out the Jews, to whom Europe owes many good and bad additions to culture, including "the grand style of morality" (i.e., the Hebrew Bible, also called the Old Testament by Christians). Nietzsche says he has never met a German "well disposed toward the Jews," and that by and large anti-Semitism goes unchecked in Germany. He avows that the Jews are "the strongest, toughest, and purest race now living in Europe; they know how to prevail under the worse conditions." He opines that if the Jews desired to (or if they were forced to because of anti-Semitism), they could master Europe, but that is not their aim. Rather, they wish to be assimilated and long to be "fixed, permitted, respected somewhere at long last, putting an end to the nomads' life," and "to that end it might be useful and fair to expel the anti-Semitic screamers from the country." Thus, Nietzsche clearly takes a stand against Europe's, and in particular Germany's, historical anti-Semitism and clearly voices his respect for the Jewish people.

Next, Nietzsche turns to the English, pronouncing them "no philosophical race," and calling out several English philosophers for ridicule. He calls Thomas Carlyle an "insipid muddlehead" who exemplifies the English in his lack of "real power of spirituality, real profundity of spiritual perception." Thus, it is not surprising the English cling to Christianity, he says, because they need its discipline to be "humanized." France, on the other hand, is praised for still being "the seat of the most spiritual and sophisticated culture in Europe and the foremost school of taste." Nonetheless, he criticizes the French for their taste for democracy ("the noisy twaddle of the democratic bourgeois"). He singles out for serious praise the French novelist Henri Beyle (whose pen name is Stendhal). He calls Stendhal a "discoverer of the soul," no doubt for his sharp psychological insights found in novels like The Red and the Black and the Charterhouse of Parma.

Nietzsche ends this sketch of ethnic generalizations by saying that despite "the insanity of nationality ... Europe wants to become one." The most profound men of the century have prepared for this "new synthesis," he says, mentioning Napoleon, Stendhal, and Schopenhauer among them—even Richard Wagner. He cautions the reader not to be "led astray" about Wagner because of the composer's "own misunderstandings," since "geniuses of his type rarely have the right to understand themselves."


In Part 8 Nietzsche proposes the thesis that nationalist politics should be put aside and all Europe united as a civilization with one identity. According to Nietzschean critic Laurence Lampert, the philosopher begins Part 8 with an overture on composer Richard Wagner to show how people can get carried away with nationalism. Despite the amount of critique and criticism Nietzsche rained down on Wagner, he deeply admired him. Thus, he uses Wagner, says Lampert, to show that at times even good Europeans can get caught up in nationalist sentiment and local pride. This strategy is similar to what he has done in the previous part—to show how a true philosopher gets to the bottom of his prejudices.

Nietzsche quickly overcomes his nationalistic lapse, however, and turns to the pros and cons of establishing democratic rule in various European countries. Democracy is a great leveler, and the more distinguishing marks of privilege are abolished, the fewer differences there will be among classes of people. Along with increased opportunity, democracy also creates sameness. Nietzsche could have predicted the ubiquitous presence of certain fast-food chains in democratic countries, along with the sameness in the clothing people wear or the music to which they listen. Paradoxically, democracy also creates sameness in ideas and an environment in which it is easier to control the masses—the herd. At the same time democracy leaves room for extraordinary people to move to the head of the herd. Moreover, the free spirit is not as readily crushed in an open society.

Nietzsche's generalizations about the various ethnicities and nationalities that he mentions in Part 8 have provoked a variety of responses among critics and remain somewhat puzzling. It is hard to believe he expects the reader to take his sweeping statements entirely seriously, and it is important to look at the tone and "listen" to the way he sounds in various parts of the text—after all, he does fault the Germans for being tone deaf when it comes to prose. The remarks about Germans seem to be, for the most part, comic. Nietzsche appears to be very serious in his defense of the Jews. His assertion that Germans are a mixed race, mostly pre-Aryan, is a barb aimed at anti-Semites. By the time Nietzsche wrote Beyond Good and Evil, anti-Semitism and nationalism were rife in Europe and, to some degree, went hand in hand. As the Jews gained full rights as citizens, they were more economically active across national boundaries and thus held in suspicion because of growing nationalism among European countries. Besides, the Jews had a long and painful history of being marginalized as aliens all over Europe, which also accounts for European anti-Semitism. Nietzsche had broken with the Wagners—both Richard Wagner and his wife Cosima—at least partially because of their anti-Semitism. Moreover, Nietzsche's sister, also close to the Wagners, was anti-Semitic and became virulently so after marrying an anti-Semite in 1885; she and her brother became estranged as a result. Thus, Nietzsche may be going out of his way to disavow the anti-Semitism of his sister and ex-mentor and friend while poking fun at German anti-Semites.

Nietzsche also criticizes or praises other ethnic groups for various imagined virtues or flaws, but given what he has said so far about the need for truth seekers to constantly question their presuppositions and look at a variety of perspectives, it seems unlikely that he took his own generalizations to heart. He also contradicts himself in places—for example, both praising the French for their refinement and damning them for their penchant for democracy. He is particularly hard on the British philosophers, yet he allows that the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill and the biologist Charles Darwin, although mediocre in Nietzsche's view, have their use for uncovering certain types of truth. Nietzsche's praise of Stendhal certainly seems genuine, along with his calibrated assessment of Wagner. His generalizations about whole nations, however, seem ridiculous and parodic and have the same flavor as his earlier comments about women in Part 7. For example, he accuses the English of causing an "an over-all depression of the European spirit" with their "profound normality," while railing against the French for being "apes and mimes" of British ideas. Perhaps he is lampooning the stereotyping of national character and even thinking of his own grandiose generalizations that form the basis for parts of his philosophy—specifically what he says about the Greeks, the Christians, the Romans, and the Germans. Nietzsche has taken as his work the deconstruction of received notions and unexamined prejudices, especially the prejudices of philosophers, so perhaps he is deconstructing himself in Part 8.

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