Nietzsche's Influence

Thought Nietzsche’s thought extended a deep influence during the 20th century, especially in Continental Europe. In English-speaking countries, his positive reception has been less resonant. During the last decade of Nietzsche’s life and the first decade of the 20th century, his thought was particularly attractive to avant-garde artists who saw themselves on the periphery of established social fashion and practice.

Here, Nietzsche’s advocacy of new, healthy beginnings, and of creative artistry in general stood forth. His tendency to seek explanations for commonly-accepted values and outlooks in the less-elevated realms of sheer animal instinct was also crucial to Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis. Later, during the 1930’s, aspects of Nietzsche’s thought were espoused by the Nazis and Italian Fascists, partly due to the encouragement of Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche through her associations with Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.

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It was possible for the Nazi interpreters to assemble, quite selectively, various passages from Nietzsche’s writings whose juxtaposition appeared to justify war, aggression and domination for the sake of nationalistic and racial self-glorification. Until the 1960s in France, Nietzsche appealed mainly to writers and artists, since the academic philosophical climate was dominated by G. W. F. Hegel’s, Edmund Husserl’s and Martin Heidegger’s thought, along with the structuralist movement of the 1950’s.

Nietzsche became especially influential in French philosophical circles during the 1960’s-1980’s, when his “God is dead” declaration, his perspectivism, and his emphasis upon power as the real motivator and explanation for people’s actions revealed new ways to challenge established authority and launch effective social critique. In the English-speaking world, Nietzsche’s unfortunate association with the Nazis kept him from serious philosophical consideration until the 1950’s and 60’s, when landmark works such as Walter Kaufmann’s, Nietzsche: Philosopher, Psychologist, Antichrist (1950) and Arthur C.

Danto’s, Nietzsche as Philosopher (1965), paved the way for a more open-minded discussion. Specific 20th century figures who were influenced, either quite substantially, or in a significant part, by Nietzsche include painters, dancers, musicians, playwrights, poets, novelists, psychologists, sociologists, literary theorists, historians, and philosophers: Alfred Adler, Georges Bataille, Martin Buber, Albert Camus, E. M.

Cioran, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Isadora Duncan, Michel Foucault, Sigmund Freud, Stefan George, Andre Gide, Hermann Hesse, Carl Jung, Martin Heidegger, Gustav Mahler, Andre Malraux, Thomas Mann, H. L. Mencken, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Paul Sartre, Max Scheler, Giovanni Segantini, George Bernard Shaw, Lev Shestov, Georg Simmel, Oswald Spengler, Richard Strauss, Paul Tillich, Ferdinand Tonnies, Mary Wigman, William Butler Yeats and Stefan Zweig.

That Nietzsche was able to write so prolifically and profoundly for years, while remaining in a condition of ill-health and often intense physical pain, is a testament to his spectacular mental capacities and willpower. Lesser people under the same physical pressures might not have had the inclination to pick up a pen, let alone think and record thoughts which — created in the midst of striving for healthy self-overcoming — would have the power to influence an entire century.