19 July 2012

Nietzsche's views on race

I've just finished reading Forgotten Fatherland, and was surprised to encounter the following passage about Friedrich Nietzsche's views on racial (im)purity:
There is no racial type in Paraguay, no 'pure' races except a few thousand Indians in the remote north and west, quickly being wiped out and their forest felled.  With at least twenty Indian women apiece, gifts usually from the local Indian caciques, the conquistadors had mixed their Spanish blood so fast that Paraguay was not a hundred years old before a mestizo race was a fact.  One enlightened governor even encouraged the races to mix, but it wasn't really necessary.  Like ink in a bucket, the Spanish blood rippled outwards from the capital, sometimes through marriage to noble Indian women, but more often through rape and concubinage.  Other immigrants added their genes to the cocktail - European adventurers, negroes and the mamelucos, fierce Portuguese-speaking land-pirates from Sao Paulo, part-Indian, part-negro, who descended on the Jesuit missions and carried off the Indian neophytes as slaves.

Nietzsche had applauded mixed races, using the Greeks as his example; he thought they produced the hardiest, most productive artists and minds.  The racial distinctions in Europe he wanted to subsume into the model of the 'good European'; though he spoke of a master race, he did not have a specific race in mind and certainly not the German.  He envisaged a group of individuals displaying masterful qualities, not a race as we would recognise it, for it is clear that his ideal men can arise in any race at any time: no one race is supreme.  For all his championing of the 'prowling blond beast', the creature of conquest, he would have found in the hardy mestizo culture something admirable and enduring.
My limited knowledge of Nietzsche (from collegiate reading lists decades ago) would not have predicted that paragraph; I guess I've been misled by popular culture linking him with the National Socialists in later years. 

And I certainly would never have predicted him using Greece as an example of mixed race culture.  I know that all nations and cultures are ultimately melting-pots, but Greece would not have popped to mind as the prototype of such.  Is it? Or was it in his day, moreso than other European nations?


  1. Or more to do with how his sister intentionally twisted his writing to serve her own agenda.

    I suspect he may have meant early Greece, which he may have seen as different city-states becoming one country. Just a guess there, but the one I thought when I read this.

  2. A seafearing nation and a former world empire stuck between three continents, that also probably invented (melting) pots...

    The mixed-race superiority of the wild-type, is racism as well. Is that what F. N. derives his views from?
    The observations from Mendel-genetics and domestic animal breeding projected onto humans. But it is conclusions like these that modern society considers immoral, because genetics, eugenics, evolution do not result in a guideline.

  3. I last read Nietzsche in college, but I agree with Zhoen that a lot of his bad rap came from how his sister misrepresented him and re-edited some of his later, unpublished work.

    And, my study of Nietzsche in college left me with a similar view to this commentator - he didn't believe in racial purity at all. The "blond beast" he was referring to was a lion...something wild, passionate, strong, creative, lusty. These are the things he romanticized. He likely wasn't a racist or even an anti-semite as he's often called. He was, however, a misogynist in my opinion. Ah well. If you can get past that unfortunate fact, there's a lot of entertaining things in his work, and even some wisdom! You'll find that some 20th century Japanese philosophers in the Zen tradition take Nietzsche as in influence, and they don't seem to espouse any of that distasteful stuff. Try Keiji Nishitani.

  4. No, he wasn't an anti-Semite or a German supremacist, and he thought the concept of racial purity was silly. That was one of the main sources of conflict with his sister. The book makes this clear repeatedly (I've just finished reading it myself), but this nonsense about being a precursor to the Nazis is the product of his malignant sister and lazy historians. He was fascinated by superior individuals, not "superior races".

    As for Greece, it originally harbored the Minoan culture which flourished before the Aryan conquests, then later came the Aryan invaders who brought the Greek language which, ancient and modern, is Indo-European, as the Minoans' language was not. So the Greeks of Classical times were a mix of at least two originally unrelated peoples. Nietzsche was probably well aware of this.

  5. Back and Nietzsche's day the term "race" was not defined as it is today. Back then you could speak of the "English Race" as different from the "Irish Race" or German Race, despite nearly identical 'ethnicity.' "Race" to the social Darwinist and nationalist were just as much about culture as it was genetics. So he probably did not mean Greece was a mixture of races as we see them today (Caucasoid, negroid, mongoloid) but more as a mixture of all the cultures which surrounded Greece.

  6. I also just finished Forgotten Fatherland. It left me wanting more on the surviving settlement. I got the feeling that the author set out to write on one thing, but found so little info that he padded the rest of the book with the history of pretty much everything else.


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