This commentary is part of The Atlas Society's 2000 online "CyberSeminar" entitled " Nietzsche and Objectivism ."
David Potts presses harder on the issue of Nietzsche’s use of “blond beast,” questioning whether Nietzsche’s use of it is primarily metaphorical in referring to the lion, or primarily referring to the German/Nordic type.
There are three mentions of the blond beast in GM I.11:
“One cannot fail to see at the bottom of all these noble races the beast of prey, the splendid blond beast, prowling about avidly in search of spoil and victory; this hidden core needs to erupt from time to time, the animal has to get out again and go back to the wilderness: the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings--they all shared this need."
“One may be quite justified in continuing to fear the blond beast at the core of all noble races and in being on one’s guard against it.”
“The deep and icy mistrust the German still arouses today whenever he gets into a position of power is an echo of that inextinguishable horror with which Europe observed for centuries that raging of the blond Germanic beast (although between the old Germanic tribes and us Germans there exists hardly a conceptual relationship, let alone one of blood).”
And as David points out, another appears at GM II.17:
“I used the word ‘state’: it is obvious who is meant by this--some pack of blond beasts of prey, a conqueror and master race which, organized for war and with the ability to organize, unhesitatingly lays its terrible claws upon a populace perhaps tremendously superior in numbers but still formless and nomad. That is after all how the ‘state’ began on earth: I think that sentimentalism which would have it begin with a ‘contract’ has been disposed of.”
So the questions are: Is Nietzsche’s use of “blond beast” to be interpreted racially, as many Nazis interpreted him and as many interpreted him who wanted to associate him with Nazism? Or is the “blond beast” merely a metaphor, referring to the lion?
Here is the non-racial interpretation. The blond beast is the lion.
Does Nietzsche use the “blond beast” to refer to the lion or the German/Nordic type?
Metaphorically, the lion’s predatory mode of living is similar to the spirit and actions of the human master type. Whether a given individual is a lion or a lamb is largely a matter of biology. Individuals are grouped racially and culturally. However, no race or culture has or has had a monopoly on the lions. Within each race and culture there are lions and lambs. In some races and cultures the lions come to dominate the lambs; those cultures then become ascendant and achieve greatness--as did for a time the Romans, the Arabs, the Japanese, the old Germans, and others. But the lions do not necessarily pass on their greatness racially--in fact, no great culture has survived for very long before slipping into decline. The blond beast then has no special connection to the old Germans: the Germans merely happened to have lighter skin and hair; and as many cultures of different skin and hair colors before them, the Germans had their time of greatness.
Here is the racial interpretation: In Nietzsche’s judgment, the latest great European culture was the old German one. That culture was at root defined physiologically and racially: it had a much higher percentage of blond individuals with a certain facial structure, etc. And that culture’s gains were mostly at the expense of darker cultures in southern Europe down to and including the Mediterranean basin, the near east, and Africa. The connection to the lion, then, is not merely metaphorical and spiritual but also literally physiological: the blondness and the associated biology of both beasts is for Nietzsche the significant point. It is that specific physiology that makes greatness possible (at least in Europe). The significance would then have to be that if we are to find the hope for a renewal of European culture, we will find it only in the German/Nordic racial type. Thus, Nietzsche’s prescription is that in order to improve the culture it is imperative to seek out the purest German/Nordic individuals, and perhaps make the next generation more purely so by eugenics.
So now the question is, where do we place Nietzsche on the spectrum defined by the racial and non-racial interpretations above?
David L. Potts wrote:
Stephen has laid out a useful pair of antipodal interpretations of Nietzsche’s use of “blond beast” and asks where we might place Nietzsche on the spectrum that lies between them. Readers of my review essay will know that I would place Nietzsche near to the racial end. However, I think there’s a distinction we ought to make between what racial divisions Nietzsche thinks existed in the remote past and what he is looking for in the future. In the past, he evidently thinks there was a master race in Europe and it was blond. Genealogy of Morals makes this clear, especially i.5.
But that doesn’t mean Nietzsche thinks the future can be secured by re-concentrating the Aryan strain anew. Indeed, if that’s what he thought, it’s strange he didn’t say so. He never advocates, for example, breeding blond (or otherwise Aryan) people together. This despite plenty of talk about the importance of blood and breeding for developing a strong race of the future, even to the extent of giving the community a hand in the marriage practices of private individuals (WP 732-734). He also speculates in several places (e.g., WP 960, Human, All Too Human i.475) that a stronger breed may emerge from racial mixing (including mixing with the Jews).
Therefore, although Nietzsche was a racialist (in the sense I gave in the review essay ) interested in breeding and even eugenics, and although he thought the blond Aryan race was the master race of early Europe, he was not interested in reviving the Aryans as a program for racial revivification. At least, it seems to me that the largest portion of the textual evidence can be accommodated by this interpretation.
Kevin Hill wrote:
“the Roman, Arabian, Germanic, Japanese nobility, the Homeric heroes, the Scandinavian Vikings”
“the blond beast at the core of *all* noble races and in being on one’s guard against it”
“the old Germanic tribes and us Germans there exists hardly a conceptual relationship, let alone one of blood”
This whole issue was admirably disposed of by Walter Kaufmann fifty years ago (“The Master Race,” Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist).
(1) “Blondness” is by no means a universal commodity among Germanic nobility or in Scandanavia. One would be hard-pressed to find much of it among “the Roman, Arabian...Japanese nobility, [or] the Homeric heroes.” The lion interpretation is inescapable.
(2) “The old Germanic tribes” refers to the populations that migrated into the Roman Empire--Franks, Visigoths, etc.--but these are founder populations for *every* Western European country.
(3) When Nietzsche speaks *explicitly* about eugenics policy (or what we, more enlightened folks call “immigration policy”), he consistently speaks in favor of mixing as many groups as possible to bring about a “European man” and “the strongest possible European mixed race.” “One should not be afraid to proclaim oneself simply a good European and actively work for the amalgamation of nations.” The means by which this is to be accomplished? “Trade and industry, the post and the book-trade, the possession in common of all higher culture, rapid changing of home and scene, the nomadic life now lived by all who do not own land” and their consequence, “a weakening and finally abolition of nations” (Human I.475).
(4) Nietzsche, for better or worse, was a Lamarckist (inheritance of acquired characteristics) who saw no fundamental distinction between biological and cultural activity. So one way to bring about a particular “race” is by imposing a specific *cultural* discipline on a population. When Nietzsche talks about changes he would like to see, it is usually by way of either harvesting past cultural investments or introducing new ones by bringing certain “powerful” *ideas* into circulation. For example, Nietzsche refers to the doctrine of the eternal recurrence as an instrument of “breeding” [Zuchtung]. The fact that “Zuchtung” readily lends itself to translation as “breeding,” “cultivation,” and “education” reinforces, and perhaps in part explains, Nietzsche’s “psycho-bio-cultural” Lamarckism.
(5) The closest we get in GM I of a suggestion of what he wants to do with the “master” legacy is in GM I.16-17. Despite the crude origins of systems of valuation, as values become internalized, they become more subtle, refined, and “spiritual” (an earlier example was the development of ideas about and experiences of spiritual purity from what were originally bodily cleanliness customs). What is now at issue is not whether or not there should be rampaging blond beasts, but what should become of the internalized *attitudes* that we have received. The best people not only aren’t barbarians, they have internalized and sublimated *both* master and slave valuations and have become “a genuine battleground of these opposed values.” What is to become of them? Nietzsche’s fear is that inner exhaustion over being such a battleground will lead to psychological decadence, which itself promotes the success of the slavish (and ascetic) attitudes. Since only slave values have a good conscience on their side now (see GM II), this danger must be opposed by restoring to master attitudes a good conscience. Only in this way can we strengthen such fruitful cultural developments which depend upon master attitudes. Previous such developments (the Renaissance) failed because they were overwhelmed by subsequent cultural developments rooted in slave attitudes (the Reformation).
David L. Potts wrote:
Kevin Hill writes: “This whole issue was admirably disposed of by Walter Kaufmann fifty years ago (“The Master Race,” Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist).”
What is “this whole issue”? I don’t ask in order to be pedantic but because I think whether we agree or disagree depends very much on what exact question we are asking. Are you talking about the meaning of the blond beast metaphor? Or the question whether Nietzsche thought a higher race could be bred through eugenics alone? Or required eugenics in part? Or the question whether Nietzsche believed there had been a blond Aryan master race in the distant past? Or whether he wanted to resurrect or create such a race in the future? To each of these questions I have already said what I think, more or less, in my review essay and in my follow up message to Stephen Hicks’s original post on this thread. In what follows I will restrict myself to commenting on a few of Kevin’s points.
“(1) ‘Blondness’ is by no means a universal commodity among Germanic nobility or in Scandanavia. One would be hard pressed to find much of it among ‘the Roman, Arabian...Japanese nobility, [or] the Homeric heroes.’ The lion interpretation is inescapable.”
Concerning the blond beast metaphor, that a lion or similar animal is part of the meaning has not been denied by anybody here. The question I have raised is whether the ancient, conquering, blond Aryan race, to which Nietzsche alludes several times in GM, is an additional part of the meaning. Therefore whether other noble races, outside Indo-Europe or in modern times, were/are blond is not to the point. As for the Homeric heroes, they were blond. For example, Achilles (Iliad i.197, xxiii.141), Menelaus (Iliad xvii.6, xxiii.293), and Meleagar (Iliad ii.642). I think this was important to Nietzsche, and I thought I said as much in the review essay , but perhaps I wasn’t explicit enough. “
(2) ‘The old Germanic tribes’ refers to the populations that migrated into the Roman Empire--Franks, Visigoths, etc.--but these are founder populations for *every* Western European country.”
If the blond beast metaphor is the issue, then the above is fully consistent with my proposal. However, I doubt whether “the old Germanic tribes” refers primarily to the tribes that toppled the Roman empire. Surely much earlier invasions, the ones that created the Aryan cultures of ancient Greece, Rome, India, and others, are what he mainly has in mind. See GM i.5.
“(3) When Nietzsche speaks *explicitly* about eugenics policy (or what we, more enlightened folks call ‘immigration policy’), he consistently speaks in favor of mixing as many groups as possible to bring about a ‘European man’ and ‘the strongest possible European mixed race.’”
I realize, and I have said a couple of times already, that Nietzsche sometimes advocates mixing of races. However, he is not consistent about it. See, for example, WP 864, where cultural decline and undercutting of the strong are blamed on “the social hodgepodge” in which “those orders that have long been kept down, mingle with the blood of all classes: two, three generations later the race is no longer recognizable--everything has become mob.”
In general I don’t think we should try to whitewash Nietzsche, and in particular I don’t think we should be trying to say that he wasn’t interested in breeding human beings, to eliminate the sickly and enhance the noble, in just the way people breed plants and other animals. It is not hard to produce passages that show that he was (my review essay provides several).
Back to David Potts, "Nobility, Civilization, and Breeding"