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Germany's Nietzsche stirs passion 100 years after death

Philosophers have gathered in Germany to celebrate the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, who died 100 years ago
Philosophers have gathered in Germany to celebrate the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, who died 100 years ago  

In this story:

Linked to fascism

The 'master of dangerous thinking'

RELATED STORIES, SITES Downward pointing arrow

BERLIN (Reuters) -- Friedrich Nietzsche, the German thinker who proclaimed God was dead and changed western philosophy forever, died 100 years ago Friday, but his writing remains as controversial now as it was then.

Philosophers from across the political spectrum gathered in Germany to remember the father of Nihilism, the philosophy of a life without purpose and meaning, who died insane and paralyzed by syphilis in the eastern town of Weimar.

"God is dead. But there may be millennia to come in which people will show his shadow in their caves," Nietzsche wrote in his most famous book, "Thus Spake Zarathustra" (1883-85).

Nietzsche was the son of a pastor from the small east German town of Roecken. His efforts to examine the motives behind traditional Western philosophy and religion made him a popular figure among free-thinkers -- but also with the Nazis.

One of his most famous, and subsequently infamous, creations was the "Ubermensch," a superman who represents the peak of human development.

"The thing about Nietzsche is that his thoughts have remained topical, he is still quoted so often because his work is timeless," said Heidemarie Damm, curator of the small museum in Roecken.

Linked to fascism

The notion of a superhuman being and Nietzsche's exploration of race issues meant that Nietzsche's ideas have become linked to fascism.

Academics say the link to the Nazis was largely due to the abuse of his work by his anti-Semitic sister Elisabeth, who controlled his estate and is accused of using his work to further fascist goals and help boost her idol, Adolf Hitler.

"To link Nietzsche to nationalism is wrong. Hitler never read Nietzsche. (Nietzsche) would have had no time for right-wing extremists -- they are primitive people and the mob element goes against everything he said," Damm said.

Nietzsche himself condemned anti-Semitism, writing that the word "anti-Semite" was another name for "bungled and botched."

"There is no more stupid and outrageous gang in Germany than the anti-Semites," he wrote.

The 'master of dangerous thinking'

Among the events scheduled to mark Nietzsche's anniversary is a talk in Weimar by the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk, whose work examines the ethics of genetic engineering and who has called Nietzsche the "master of dangerous thinking."

Sloterdijk will look at how Nietzsche anticipated gene technology and described "Thus Spake Zarathustra" as "a thesis about people as breeders of people" in the magazine Der Spiegel.

German philosophers such as Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers and Max Schele have acknowledged the influence of Nietzsche on their work.

He has also been a guiding force behind the French thinkers Jacques Derrida, Albert Camus and Michel Foucault.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

TIME Asia | Books: Wisdom of the Ages
April 17, 2000

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