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Beyond Good and Evil

Friedrich Nietzsche

8 - "Peoples and Fatherlands"

7 - "Our Virtues"

9 - "What is Noble"


As the title suggests, this chapter deals primarily with nationalism and nationalities. While heavy spirits spend half their life wallowing in the prejudices and narrow-mindedness of nationalistic sentiment, Nietzsche suggests that even "good Europeans" descend into such stupidity for brief moments. He alludes to his earlier remarks about women as "a plop and relapse into old loves and narrownesses."

Nietzsche finds modern Europe most strongly characterized by the democratic movement that will mix the races of Europe together, creating increasingly less national distinctiveness. While it will breed a great deal of mediocrity, it will also prove the source for a very few, very exceptional spirits.

A great deal of this chapter deals with Nietzsche's discussion of different races, particularly the Germans. The Germans, more than any other race, are made up of a great mixture of bloods: there is no such thing as "pure" German. As a result, the German spirit is complex and mysterious, without any firm definition. The Germans see this complexity as profundity, and are often considered a profound race.

Nietzsche criticizes German literature and language for lacking a sense of rhythm and tempo. In ancient times, when reading was always done aloud, the sound of a language was crucial. Now that everyone reads silently, there are few writers who still understand the natural music of language.

Nietzsche draws a distinction between races that, like women, need to be fertilized and give birth; and races that, like men, need to beget and impregnate. He takes the Greeks and the French as examples of "feminine" races, who assimilate the force and spirit of other races and craft it into something beautiful. Among "masculine" races, Nietzsche suggests Romans and Germans, but above all, the Jews. These are races whose creative drive is absorbed by the cultures they contact, giving the impetus for great creations.

Nietzsche speaks highly of the Jews, saying that, while they are responsible for slave morality and the grand style of moralizing, this creative act has been one of the greatest Europe has ever seen. Nietzsche asserts that the Jews are the strongest race in Europe, and that German anti-Semitism arises precisely because Germany is unable to cope with the strength of Jewish spirit. Contrary to anti-Semitic paranoia, Nietzsche suggests that the Jews do not want to take over Europe. Rather, they want to be assimilated by Europe, and this could only be to Europe's benefit.

Nietzsche isn't so charitable with the English. They are unphilosophical, shallow, rely on insipid Christian moralizing, and lack any sense of music or dance, in both the figurative and literal senses. The best of England are mediocre men with good minds, like Mill, ##Darwin##, or Herbert Spencer. Free spirits want more than the knowledge that these men dig up so well: free spirits want to be something new, to create new values, and the pursuit of knowledge is of secondary importance.

The English, Nietzsche claims, are also responsible for the democratic French ideals that come from figures such as ##Rousseau##. The true French spirit of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is artistic, passionate, sensitive, and made lighter by its contact with the Mediterranean.

In spite of prevailing nationalism, Nietzsche asserts that Europe fundamentally longs to be united. The most exemplary figures of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche argues, have all risen above their own nationality. Nietzsche cites as examples ##Napoleon##, Goethe, ##Beethoven##, ##Stendhal##, Heinrich Heine, Schopenhauer, and even Wagner, in spite of Nietzsche's criticisms of what Wagner became.


At the beginning of the chapter, Nietzsche admits that even those who are above nationalism sometimes descend into petty prejudices and the like. He even alludes once more to his vitriolic remarks about women in the previous chapter. We might ask how much of the rest of this chapter consists of remarks that a "good European" might be ashamed of.

While Nietzsche's praise of the Jews might seem as commendable as his attack on the English might seem narrow-minded, we must recognize that they come from the same source. A prevailing view in nineteenth century Europe was a kind of Lamarckism adapted by the likes of Herbert Spencer, which came to see different races as having different "acquired characteristics." From living together in the same place with the same needs for extended periods, different nationalities would develop different characteristics to help them adapt to their environment. This philosophy led, among other things, to vicious stereotypes and racism.

While Nietzsche doesn't seem to question the basic principle that certain characteristics can meaningfully be applied to an entire race, he is very clever in reversing many of the stereotypes. Most notable is his opposition to anti-Semitism. The common conception of the Jews saw them as an effeminate race that lacked any creative instinct of their own, but merely stole from other cultures. Nietzsche suggests the contrary, that the Jews are a "masculine" race that plants the creative seed that blossoms in other cultures. Nietzsche also knocks away the anti-Semitic assumption that Germans come from pure, Aryan stock. On the contrary, Nietzsche suggests that no race is more mixed than the Germans, and it is precisely this mixture that explains their character. On a less political bent, Nietzsche anticipates twentieth-century scholarship in identifying the Greeks as owing a great debt to the cultures that preceded them. The Greeks are "feminine" because they absorbed the heritage of the Asian cultures that had preceded them and "gave birth" to some of the greatest philosophy and literature the world has seen.

If we want to be charitable to Nietzsche (and it is always good form to be charitable to philosophers one studies), we could argue that Nietzsche doesn't really believe the racial stereotyping he employs. He writes in earlier chapters about how a great thinker is always "masked" and must rarely reveal his true colors. It seems a great deal of his discussion of race in this chapter is meant to oppose the nationalistic, anti-Semitic Germans who were in power at the time. A critique of the very concept of "race" might have gone right over their heads, but a reversal of their stereotypes, which praises the Jews and disdains the idea of "pure" German stock, might hit them directly where it hurts. Of course, this reading still leaves us wondering why Nietzsche chose to pick on the English. I suppose it's good fun, if nothing else.

This reading of Nietzsche is also supported by his conception of the "good European." Nietzsche was eager to be read as a European writer, and not as a German writer. He lived in Switzerland and Italy, he uses many French terms, and is generally critical of German nationalism. According to Nietzsche, the best among Europeans are able to see beyond the nationalism that their homeland foists upon them. Nietzsche's admiration for Napoleon, for instance, does not come from some "master morality" of conquering and dominating others. Rather, it comes from Napoleon's vision of uniting Europe and bringing all nationalities under a common rule. Nationalism, to Nietzsche, brings just one more set of prejudices that a truly free spirit must move beyond. We see the direct influence of Nietzsche on James Joyce in ##A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man##: "When the soul is born in this country there are nets flung at it to hold it back from flight. You talk to me of nationality, language, religion. I shall try to fly by those nets." Even Joyce's choice of metaphors is Nietzschean.

A final point worth noting is Nietzsche's disparagement of English thinkers as being obsessed with knowledge. In the previous chapter, he lauds the pursuit of knowledge as the highest possible pursuit. This contrast helps to bring out Nietzsche's use of words to mean opposite things. The "knowledge" of a Darwin or a Spencer is the digging up of facts, devoid of meaning. The "knowledge" of a free spirit is a removal of inhibitions, assumptions, and prejudices that allows one to create meaning. We must always be careful not to ascribe simply a positive or simply a negative to any words used by Nietzsche.

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