Saturday, 19 June 2010

What do Maimonides and Nietzsche Have in Common?

Not a lot

But there is this one thing:

As Achad Ha'am puts it in his article Shilton HaSechel (Hey! That's the name of the blog!):

Both of them see the purpose of  the existence of the human species in the creation of the most complete epitome of humanity and both of them make the majority the tool of the minority in whom the highest human epitome takes form. (My Imperfect Translation)

Say what?  The Rambam an elitist? The Rambam believing that the purpose of most men is to serve the better people?

Basically the Rambam believed that the ultimate purpose of man was to engage in philosophical speculation about God. Doing this is a way of turning "potential intellect" into "active intellect"  and thus obtaining immortality of a sort. So the Rambam has a really good question:

תכלית היות האדם לצייר לנפשו המושכלות. ואם כן, מדוע המציא הקדוש ברוך הוא כל האנשים אשר לא יציירו מושכל לנפשם? ואנו רואים שרוב בני אדם ערומים מן העורמה וריקים מן החכמה, מבקשים התאווה, ושהאיש החכם המואס בעולם הוא יחיד בין רבים, לא ימצא אלא אחד בדור מהדורות?!

The purpose of man is to create for himself the "Active Intellect" If so why did God make people who will never create for themselves Active Intellect? We see that most people are empty of wisdom and seek desire and the smart man is one among many and may only be found in one generation out of many.

The Rambam answers that these people (most people) serve two purposes:

1. To do work for the one smart man

2. To give the smart man company

This is somewhat similar to how Nietszche envisions humanity in relation to his ubermensch or the super man. Nietzsche believed that those who cannot become supermen can find solace in the fact that they serve the superman. He glorified those thousands who died for the ubermensch - Napoleon for they had helped him in his goal.

 "Ye lonely ones of today, ye who stand apart, ye shall one day be a people; from you who have chosen yourselves, a chosen people will arise; and from it the superman."

 "Not mankind but the superman is the goal"

Needless to say the Rambam and Nietzsche had completely different views on who the superman was but still the shared elitism is extremely interesting. Try teaching this in the yeshiva world which learns the Rambam's works religiously and claims to revere him but would probably brand this idea of the Rambam as heresy. Don't believe me? The Rambam says all of this in his Introduction to the Mishna over here 

18 comments:

G*3 said...

> Try teaching this in the yeshiva world which … would probably brand this idea of the Rambam as heresy.

Not at all. The yeshiva world sees the yungerman learning in kollel as the ubermensch and would readily agree that the prime purpose of all other frum people, and certainly of goyim and of the universe at large, is to support the yungeleit who fulfill the purpose of creation by learning.

Shilton HaSechel said...

The difference is they believe that every Jew has "a portion in the world to come" and that basically every Jew is in this world to gain or lose "heaven points."

No one in the Yeshiva world would dare say that a fellow Chareidi, even one not in kollel, is in this world to serve the Torah learning ubermenschen.

But I agree there is a degree of elitism is Chareidism, just not to the extent of the Rambam.

Baruch Spinoza said...

I do not like to translate Nietzsche's ubermensch as the "superman". Because it sounds very similar to the Nazi idea of the die hassenrase. I prefer to use "overman". Someone who has been successfully broke away from his slave morality. The German prefex "uber" has a lot of different meanings, "super" is not always the best one.

MKR said...

I do not like to translate Nietzsche's ubermensch as the "superman". Because it sounds very similar to the Nazi idea of the die hassenrase. (Baruch Spinoza)

I don't know what you meant to write, but in German, "die" is the feminine definite article, "Hass" means "hate" or "hatred," and "rase" is the first-person singular present conjugation of the verb "rasen," which means "to rave". So the phrase "the die Hassenrase," if it can be said to mean anything at all, would mean "the the hate-I-rave." If you meant "the hate race," that would be "die Hassenrasse," but I don't recall any such phrase being used by the Nazis or by anyone else.

Baruch Spinoza said...

"I don't know what you meant to write.":

I was trying to write "the master race".

MKR said...

Ah, that would be "die Herrenrasse." But better to stick to English, I think.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Either way Nazism is a biological interpretation of Nietzsche

Baruch Spinoza said...

"Either way Nazism is a biological interpretation of Nietzsche":

No, it is not. Nietzsche had nothing to do with Nazism and he would have despised the entire movement that the Nazis stood for. Nietzsche ended his relationship with his sister when she married an anti-semite, because Nietzsche hated anti-Seminitism. Nothing in Nietzsche's works can be used as a justification for Nazism.

Shilton HaSechel said...

I generalized a bit.

Nietzsche's philosophy was by no means synonymous with Nazism but still was a strong influence on it.

Nietzsche's advocacy of the "strong take all", his rejection of "slave morality", and his whole concept of "some people are better than others" were very influential on Nazism

That isn't to say that Nietszche was bad or anything just pointing out that he did influence the Nazis to a certain extent (and the Nazis believed this too)

This is how Wikipedia puts it:

"The ideological roots of Nazism derive from Romanticism, nineteenth-century idealism, and a biologic interpretation of Friedrich Nietzsche’s concepts of “breeding upwards” — towards the Übermensch (“Superman”)."

Baruch Spinoza said...

Nietzsche did not influence the Nazis. They may pretend that they took influence from him, but he did not. His final published book, "Will to Power", was tampered with his sister. He never approved the final book for publication. This is the book that seems to have influenced the Nazis. But it was not Nietzsche's works, it was the tampering of his work by his sister to make it anti-semitic. No scholars of Nietzsche actually rely on the "Will to Power" book that I know of.

Nietzsche did not advocate for the strong to take it all, rather he was describing how morals operate. He was making a describtive statement, not a prescribtive statement, so you cannot call that advocay.

Yes, some people are better than others. That is not really a form of philosophy but a revealation that any intelligent person realizes. Some people are dumb and stupid. And some people are superior. Of course, if one believes we should exterminate the weak, that is taking it too far. But simply accepting this simple truth brings no harm.

It is unfair to say Nietzsche influenced Nazism. In the same way it is unfair to say Charles Darwin influenced Hitler. Darwin had nothing to do with genocide and Nietzsche had nothing to do with the ubermensch. What the Nazis claim is irrelevent here.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Now that you mention it I think Darwin did influence Nazism to an extent (once again I don't think that he should be blamed for that or that that means that there is anything wrong with natural selection)

Darwin led to Social Darwinism which led to certain forms of nationalism which led to Nazism (put way too simply)

Does Darwinism = Social Darwinism? Not at all they are completely different ideologies. But at the end of the day the "idea",as ideas tend to do, got changed/twisted by other people.

My very facile knowledge of Nietzsche might be off here but from the little I know I can understand how his ideas could be twisted into Nazism. That is all I mean by influence.

Take for example Christianity everyone agrees that it was directly influenced by Judaism (in fact it was Judaism!) but yet at the same time Christianity is totally different because a lot of other things were thrown into the mix.

Shilton HaSechel said...

To be honest I need to read more Nietzsche and Mein Kampf before I make a real serious assessment about their relationship.

Baruch Spinoza said...

Nazism was not really based on Darwin. For thousands of years people were familiar with breeding. This is known as artifical selection. What Darwin realized is that nature can be a breeder too. Thus, it is more appropriate to say that the Nazis were breeders rather than Darwinists. I am entirely positive that many of Nazis rejected Charles Darwin entirely because his ideas oppose religion.

"To be honest I need to read more Nietzsche and Mein Kampf before I make a real serious assessment about their relationship.":

Mein Kampf is probably one of the dumbest and more boring books you can read. It was written by a guy in jail who had nothing better to do. So do not be surprised that it will be boring.

Nietzsche is extremely hard to read, and you need to struggle to interpret him, he is a mad-man, insane. You must get around his insanity to get to his main ponts. I took a college course on Freidrich Nietzsche. My professor did talk about his false identification to Nazism.

JewishGadfly said...

The thing is, Social Darwinism is not based on Darwinism, really. It's based on the work of Herbert Spencer--who coined the phrase "survival of the fittest"--and it should really be called "Social Spencerism." Darwin distanced himself both from Spencer's ideas, which generally go astray of Darwinism, and from the phrase "survival of the fittest," which is incredibly misleading (or just plain inaccurate, if you are less generous about it).

All in all, I don't think it's a fair assessment to say that if a misrepresentation of a man's ideas influence a movement, that man's ideas are influencing them. Yeah, it's technically sort of true in a literalist, vague sense, but not the way we might normally mean when we say "Nazism was influenced by Xism."

Spinoza--while Nietzsche suffered a number of consequence for his staunch disavowal of anti-semitism, he did go farther than a descriptive statement that some are stronger than others, didn't he? He also affirmed that strength, and rejected the morality that said that strength should be reeled in. It is easier to see how that could be twisted around.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Like most arguments this one has boiled down to semantics in this case what "influence" means in regards to the relationship between Nazism and Nietzsche.

Overall Nietzsche does not equal Nazism but elements of his philosophy can be used and twisted to contribute to Nazism.

Does that mean Nietzsche "influenced" Hitler?

Let's assume that "influence" means that Hitler's ideology or parts of it are contingent on Nietzsche's by which I mean could he have reached the conclusions he did in a world where Nietzsche did not already exist.

Would Hitler have come up with the idea of the "master race" without Neitszche's idea of the Ubermensch (even though the two are only vaguely similar and getting from point A to point B takes a bit of imagination) Its a good question and I don't know the answer. After all we don't know the processes that led to Hitler's fateful conclusions and we probably never will.

My initial statement, which on second thought was rather hastily written, is a major "tzarich iyun" on what "influence means" and what Hitler was thinking not to mention a correct understanding of Nietzsche himself

JewishGadfly said...

Well, for the record, I meant what I wrote foremost for Darwin, who was much more removed and whose ideas I know were and misrepresented/misunderstood by a middleman.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Agreed I think the connection (if any) between Nazism and Darwinism is much more tenuous than one between Nazism and Nietzsche.

Baruch Spinoza said...

"Spinoza--while Nietzsche suffered a number of consequence for his staunch disavowal of anti-semitism, he did go farther than a descriptive statement that some are stronger than others, didn't he? He also affirmed that strength, and rejected the morality that said that strength should be reeled in. It is easier to see how that could be twisted around.":

Yes, some are stronger than others, and he rejected morality, he was a nihilist after all. (I do agree with him, but that is irrelevant). But I do not think this is what influenced Hitler. Hitler already had his ideas that Germans are superior before Nietzsche. Nietzsche, for Hitler, represented a powerful German. A pure German. I doubt that Hitler would follow Nietzsche if he found out that Nietzsche was a Jew.

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