A Review of William H. F. Altman’s Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche: The Philosopher of the Second Reich (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2013).
In this imaginative and refined commentary on Nietzsche’s political thought, Altman provides an incisive critique of the achievement of Nietzsche, as well as his limitations. The work is the third volume of a trilogy on German political thought, following earlier studies by the author of Heidegger and Leo Strauss. Utilizing Nietzsche’s own aphoristic style as evinced in his Daybreak, the main arguments of the text are presented in the course of five chapters (“books”) composed of 155 essays, and 63 pages of notes, and other ancillary writings. The first chapter critiques Nietzsche as the classicist who looked to the past, but equally to the future, to evaluate the crisis of liberal institutions in his own time and place. Chapter Two even more explicitly demonstrates Nietzsche’s connection to the political world of the Second Reich. Nietzsche’s criticism of Plato, and his rather limited appreciation of Aristotle, are presented in Chapter 3. Nietzsche’s defense of aristocratic elitism, and his assimilation and use of Platonic themes, especially dualism, are assessed convincingly by the author as well. The two final chapters place Nietzsche within the historical context of the Second Reich, providing insightful reflections on Nietzsche’s influence during World War I.
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