Saturday, October 20, 2018

On Nietzsche’s Sister, Elisabeth

Elisabeth shaking hands with Hitler
Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche became Friedrich Nietzsche’s guardian and assumed control of his legacy after he suffered a mental collapse. She was an anti-semite and several scholars (including Walter Kaufmann) have criticized her for twisting Nietzsche’s legacy and creating the impression that he was a Nazi prophet. It is said that she published The Will to Power, a selection of fragments from Nietzsche’s notebooks, with the intention of depicting him as a proto-Nazi. The book has several aphorisms which dwell on the importance of breeding and the need to exterminate the weak.

But R. Kevin Hill, in his Introduction to The Will to Power (translated by R. Kevin Hill and Michael A. Scarpitti; Penguin Classics, 2017), offers a moderate impression of Elisabeth. He says that she did not actively participate in the creation of The Will to Power. Here’s an excerpt:
Most of the editorial work was done by Köselitz and his associates [the book’s publisher], and not by Elisabeth (as she herself explains in the preface to the 1901 edition, where she ‘stresses explicitly’ that she is ‘not even the editor of the book but at most and in the most modest sense of the word, a collaborator’), whose particular gifts lay more in the areas of administration and promotion. Köselitz appears to have made a good-faith effort to select the material that was of the greatest interest, and much of the editorial activity was merely ‘tidying’. Nor was it ever his intention, as some have claimed to convey the misleading impression of a magnum opus.
On the editorial contributions made by Elisabeth, Kevin Hill says;
Elisabeth’s editorial contribution seems to have been limited to her insistence that Nietzsche had produced a philosophical system that could compete with the systems of such figures as Kant and Hegel (for without that achievement, Nietzsche might be regarded as nothing more than a belletrist, an impression reinforced by the aphoristic style of many of his other works) and that the text presented that system. Köselitz’s editorial sin lay more in his silent acquiescence to her overall characterization of the material as Nietzsche’s crowing achievement… 
However, book’s title came from Elisabeth. Kevin Hill points out that she rejected the title that the editors had suggested, and gave the book the title, The Will to Power. Attempt at a Revaluation of All Values. (Studies and Fragments). She also suppressed an Introduction that the editors had written and replaced it with her own. The feeling that The Will to Power is associated with Nazism has been strengthened by the existence of a famous photograph in which Elisabeth is shaking hands with Hitler, who used to visit her frequently.

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