Among the infamous pantheon of Nazi artists and intellectuals that espoused antisemitism in the nineteenth and twentieth century, the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche is the subject of heated controversy. The Nazis claimed his work, along with that of Richard Wagner, as an antisemitic precursor that sought to deprive German Jews of their citizenship and expel them from Germany. In recent decades, however, there has been a swing in a different direction. A number of Nietzsche scholars have argued that he was not only free of racist sentiments but was also a principled defender of Jews against the antisemitic racial onslaught of his former mentor, Richard Wagner.
Robert C. Holub, Ohio Eminent Scholar and professor of German at Ohio State University and former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, has sought to reappraise the truth of these claims through the prism of a careful reading of evidence from Nietzsche’s published and unpublished letters. Although his conclusions will not be the last word on the controversy, Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem is nevertheless a valuable contribution to the debate. In citing the comments of Weimar Republic satirist Kurt Tucholsky — ”Who cannot claim Nietzsche for their own? Tell me what you need and I will supply you with a Nietzsche citation[…] for Germany and against Germany; for peace and against peace; for literature and against literature[…] whatever you want.” — Holub understands that Nietzsche’s attitudes towards the Jews was a complex one. He concludes that Nietzsche harbored anti-Jewish prejudices throughout his life but was also an anti-antisemite who opposed the crude and vulgar political antisemitism of late nineteenth century Germany, such as was espoused by Wagner and his circle of acolytes. Whereas Wagner, Paul La Garde, and other racial antisemites called for the expulsion of the Jews, Nietzsche called for their assimilation through intermarriage with the Prussian aristocracy, producing a superior race based on Jewish intellectuality and Prussian nobility. Unlike the political antisemites, Nietzsche did not want to strip Jews of the qualities that had made them successful in the modern world; instead he wanted “to have these traits bred into a European race that would exercise hegemony over the entire world.” Nietzsche viewed Christianity as Judaism by another name, and called for the Judeo-Christian “ slave morality” to be replaced by a noble one associated with an Aryan and fair-haired race: the strong ruling over the poor and weak, instead of a morality based on “Love thy neighbor; Turn the other cheek,” among other Judeo-Christian teachings seen as part of Nietzsche’s definition of slave morality.