Categories
Non Fiction

Protect by the Sword, Win by the Intellect

Friedrich Nietzsche held more relevance in the thoughts of German intellectuals than any other philosopher on the eve of the First World War, partly because he had laid a dialectical basis for justifying conquest and power, but also because he asserted that life inherently had no meaning, which drove the German desire to reason that war was purposeful for a nation. To be clear, when Nietzsche wrote about war his connotation of the word was fitted under the context of individualism, in that instead of adhering to any idealism, a man should struggle through reality in order to reach his highest form, or, “Ubermacht.” Conversely, the German politician and historian Heinrich von Treitschke propounded national solidarity in a way that was inconsistent with, but still influenced by Nietzsche’s ideas. Treitschke advocated patriotism as a means to achieve a higher form of power. Treitschke’s piece, “The Greatness of War” asserted that the pursuit of peace was in itself reactionary, given the supposed natural inclination for war that superior races inherently felt. Treitschke even borrowed phrases from Nietzsche, such as “the Will,” which he used in a more simple manner by arguing that “Those that preach the nonsense about everlasting peace do not understand the life of the Aryan race, the Aryans are before all brave. They have always been men enough to protect by the sword what they had won by the intellect.” Nietzsche on the other hand, was not writing about war in a literal sense, but in a figurative way when he wrote in The Will to Power about the struggle to achieve a higher form of being, whom many Germans thereafter concluded must be none other than members of the Teutonic race. However, Nietzsche did not focus on Germans as a race as much as his fellow countrymen believed, instead, he was ambiguous and even at times ambivalent about German intellectual supremacy, rather choosing to speak in broad terms on the constant vying for power by the races of Europe.

Yet it was not far-fetched for contemporary German intellectuals to apply Nietzsche’s work to the idea of the German man’s ascendancy over other Europeans, as seen through an excerpt from The Will to Power, in which the philosopher seemed to call for: “The annihilation of the decaying races… -The annihilation of slavish evaluations. -Dominion over the earth as a means of producing a higher type…” It could be said that Treitschke offered the same argument just in different words- that Germany had an intellectual right to conquer other nations as a way of extending a higher being’s (the Aryan’s) influence over the world in order to better humanity. The Prussian general and military historian Friedrich von Bernhardi agreed with Treitschke, and even took the idea to a whole new level when he exclaimed in his famous pre-World War One book Germany and the Next War that “war is a biological necessity” -a concept undoubtedly conceived from late 19th century Social Darwinist notions of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. And yet, militarism and nihilism were not interchangeable ideas, but rather, the advent of nihilism as focused on by Nietzsche gave birth to an uncanny modern form of militarism that was meant to intellectually justify war -in that Christian notions of humility and compassion taught by Jesus were crushed altogether. Although some would argue this as irrelevant because war had been justified as a necessity throughout the era of widespread Christian intellectual dominance and even post-Enlightenment (which Nietzsche despised as much as Christianity). Thus, a militaristic mindset had been prominent in German and European culture for millennia, but Nietzsche was the first to apply it in the modern sense through existential thought, and in turn influenced the likes of Treitschke and Bernhardi to evaluate war in a new conceptual manner, albeit from a nationalistic standpoint.

Treitschke, as a member of the National Liberal party in the Reichstag, was particularly concerned with the individual putting his country before all else, and in this way he justified war, while The Will to Power focused on the individual exerting his strength over others so much as there would be a select few who exhibited power over the herds of commoners that were more than a nuisance in that they threatened the well-being of mankind. Treitschke and Bernhardi applied this struggle specifically to Germany’s diplomatic crises before the war, as France had complained to her allies about the longstanding German occupation of Alsace-Lorraine (which was annexed by Germany after the Franco-Prussian war). The situation worsened during the Moroccan Crisis, which was a result of Kaiser Wilhelm II advocating independence for the North African country in order to aggravate France and test the resolve of her allies. Hence, in the years preceding the First World War Germans felt that the multitude of weak European states were ganging up on the fatherland- just as Nietszche argued that the weak masses had culturally supplanted (through democracy and socialism) those who deserved power for themselves alone.

Nietzsche’s concepts have been widely misunderstood and oversimplified.
Categories
Non Fiction

Development of Italy and Germany as Nation-States in 19th Century Europe

Count Camillo di Cavour and Otto von Bismarck led the unifications of Italy and Germany simultaneously throughout the 1860s.  They shared many of the same beliefs and instituted some of the same practices, but ultimately, unified Italy remained weak, while the newly unified German Empire became increasingly stronger throughout the rest of the late nineteenth century and culminating (then reemerging as the Third Reich) in the twentieth century.  Cavour’s interests involved unifying Italy under Piedmont, while maintaining a monarchial state, and quelling the republican forces led by Mazzini.  Bismarck was interested in unifying Germany, yet changed from a reactionary’s point of view to a conservative standpoint by the time he became chancellor of Prussia.  Cavour was a moderate, Bismarck was conservative, neither of them had any radical ideals.  The unifications of their states were a means to an end, and both men wished for their respective homelands to dominate and influence their newly unified nation-states.

Cavour represented King Victor Emmanuel II by using cunning politics and secretive diplomacy in order to further Piedmont’s interests in the Italian peninsula.  The King attempted to wage war against the Habsburgs on two occasions and failed miserably both times.  Cavour used his cunningness to gain favor with Napolean III of France and eventually wage successful war against the Austrians.  The Piedmonts won Lombardy from the Habsburgs, meanwhile the Italian republican nationalists, led by Garibaldi, landed in Sicily and moved up north.  This prompted Cavour to order the Piedmont army to move south and meet the republicans, forcing Garibaldi to give up his republican ideals and choose national unification under the leadership of Piedmont.  Eventually, by 1870, all of Italy was unified, (except for a few small regions still occupied by the Austrians), yet this did not foster the strength that romantic nationalism promised.  The newly unified Italy became corrupt politically, and weak economically and militarily.

In contrast, Prussia was strong to begin with in the early 1860s and Bismarck led the country conservatively on a path of dominance in Germany.  Kaiser William I chose Bismarck because he knew the man would move against the liberal Prussian Parliament, and that is exactly what he did.  Bismarck gained the support of the bureaucracy and the military through conservative political maneuvers in parliament.  Then, he provoked war with the Danish, the Austrians, and ultimately the French as he led the Germans in defeating all of them.  The North German Confederation was established through the conservative institution of Prussia, and the southern German states united once the Franco-Prussian war began.  It was in that war that the Germans utterly destroyed the French, and Kaiser William I was crowned Emperor in Versailles.  Thus, Bismarck was cunning and at times pragmatic like Cavour, yet in the end, Germany was successful in her wars of aggression, and Italy never achieved the glorifying reemergence of the Roman Empire that it desired.