Beyond Good and Evil

by: Friedrich Nietzsche

8 - "Peoples and Fatherlands"

Summary 8 - "Peoples and Fatherlands"

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.

Commentary

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.

Beyond Good and Evil: Popular pages