Once again this fall I was teaching my beloved On the Genealogy of Morals, this time to the frosh in my Core Course "Exploring human experience." Just in college for two weeks, and with no warning or preparation we were asking them to think about masters and slaves, to entertain this insidious assault upon their rather vague Christianity. If Nietzsche imagined that one day wars would be fought in his name (and I don't think he meant culture wars), the professor within him also fantasized that a chair would eventually be established for the teaching of Zarathustra. But when he prophesied that Europe would one day survive in the form of thirty or so imperishable books, I don't suspect he was thinking that historically Baptist institutions, such as the one where I teach, would include the Genealogy as part of the multicultural spectrum of texts with which every first-year student must wrestle along with Lao Tzu, the Qur'an and Don DeLillo's White Noise. And once again, a student asked "What does Nietzsche really think about the Jews?" temporarily frustrating my attempt to steer the discussion towards the opposition between guilt cultures and shame cultures, the brilliant explanation of the origins of civilization, bad conscience and western religion, and the rank order of forms of asceticism (artists are best, followed closely by philosophers, all the way down to historians, with - surprise! - priests squarely in the middle). In my inspired answer, as I recall (all praise to active forgetfulness), I said that in keeping with Nietzsche's lapidary maxim that "only that which has no history can be defined," there was no essence of the Jew or of Judaism in his perspective. He admired the warrior kings and other towering figures of the Hebrew Bible. I could have quoted Beyond Good and Evil: "With terror and reverence one stands before these tremendous remnants of what man once was, and will have sad thoughts about ancient Asia and its protruding little peninsula Europe". But after their political and military defeat, the priests took over from the warriors, exploiting the split which was always already there in the ethos of the masters. It's that defeated, priestly people of ancient times who become the masters of ressentiment, and eventually hatch Christianity, the greatest outrage of history. So, I underline the point pedagogically, it's not a question of comparing Jews unfavorably to Christians; as for modern anti-Semitism, Nietzsche finds it to be a virulent form of plebeian ressentiment, and when given a racial formulation by German ideologues, a grotesque absurdity, since the Jews are a stronger, better race than the mongrel Germans, who would do well to learn some wit and esprit from the Jews among them. I could have gone on to speak of how Nietzsche's writings become increasingly friendly toward the Jews, as he begins to think of his future readers and the way in which his thought will be propagated. One might do a very subtle analysis of Nietzsche's construction of his "friend Georg" Brandes, in the light of Nietzsche's ambition for his work, his difficult notion of friendship and his ambiguous praise of contemporary Jews as actors and logicians.
Copyright © 1997 Routledge. This book chapter first appeared in Nietzsche and Jewish Culture.
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Shapiro, Gary. "Diasporas." In Nietzsche and Jewish Culture, by Jacob Golomb, 244-62. New York: Routledge, 1997.