A Reply from Nietzsche.
Like these other figures, whose thought is sanitized and claimed by Peterson, Nietzsche possessed views of Jews quite at odds with Peterson’s own hasty conclusions. Robert Holub’s 2015 Nietzsche’s Jewish Problem: Between Anti-Semitism and Anti-Judaism (Princeton University Press) convincingly demonstrates that, at best, Nietzsche could be described as ambivalent towards the Jewish Question. Nietzsche was undeniably in tune with Wagner when it came to animosity towards those aspects of modernity most closely linked with the rise of the Jews in Germany: the hegemony of journalists, the press, newspapers, new ‘trends’ in art, and the stock market. He was a critic of both Berthold Auerbach and Felix Mendelssohn, whom he argued produced works typified by foreignness, jargon, mawkishness and internationalism. At Basel, one of Nietzsche’s closest colleagues was the historian Jacob Burckhardt, described in one dedication as “my honored friend.” Burckhardt was unequivocally opposed to Jewish emancipation and believed that everything of worth in European culture was due to its Greek and Roman heritage rather than the Jewish tradition. He would have balked at the idea of Europe as a ‘Judeo-Christian’ cultural entity—a favorite piece of Jordan Peterson’s nomenclature—and he was firmly convinced that Jews were responsible for the worst manifestations of modernity. Early in his career Burckhardt wrote to a friend that the presence of Jews in a theater would be sufficient to entirely destroy his enjoyment of the event.
Like the others reviewed here, Peterson references Friedrich Nietzsche in almost every interview, talk, or text he delivers. In 12 Rules for Life (p.59), Peterson describes Nietzsche as both “great” and “brilliant,” and calls him (p.85) “perhaps the most astute critic ever to confront Christianity.” In much the same way as he cites Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, and Jung as his ideological forerunners, Peterson holds up Nietzsche as a prescient and thoughtful thinker whose work was characterized (p.37) by its “brilliance.”
Between 1868 and 1873 Nietzsche gained a grasp of the fundamentals of the Jewish Question, and during this period he continually articulates a natural and impulsive distaste for aspects of Jewish culture and behavior. His letters to his mother show that he associated Jews with unsavory business practices, tastelessness, and low cultural attributes. Writing to his mother about a tour around Switzerland in 1872, he describes his fellow travelers before commenting “unfortunately there was a Jew among them.” In 1872 these feelings and ideas came closest to intellectual expression. In January and February of that year Nietzsche delivered two lectures, ‘The Greek Music Drama’ and ‘Socrates and Tragedy.’ Despite their fairly innocuous titles, the lectures dealt with key aspects of the Wagnerian cultural program: that modern opera had become greatly distanced from its ancient cultural roots, and that Jews were having a deleterious impact on contemporary art and culture. Nietzsche, taking his cue from Wagner, argued that genuine tragedy was mysterious, instinctive and profound. It was also able to be conceived and appreciated only by Europeans. By contrast, ‘Socratism,’ identified with rationalism and dialectic, eradicates instinct and with it art. ‘Socratism’ had also become a historical force in its own right, in the form of this-worldly Judaism. Nietzsche would conclude his second lecture by stating:
Should the Teuton have nothing else to place at the side of that vanished artwork of the past except the ‘grand opera,’ something akin to the ape appearing next to Hercules? This is the most serious question of our art: and anyone who, as a Teuton, does not understand the seriousness of this question, has fallen into the Socratism of our times, which, to be sure, is neither capable of producing martyrs, nor speaks the language of the wisest Hellene. This Socratism is the Jewish press: I’ll say no more.
Wagner had of course taken even further steps against Jewish influence — but the older man possessed significantly more stature and legitimacy. Nietzsche sent his lecture notes to Wagner on February 4, and the composer replied cautiously. Wagner, who was fully aware of the damage that could be wrought by Jews on lone targets like himself, responded: “I say to you: that’s the way it is. … But I am concerned about you, and wish with my entire heart that you don’t ruin yourself.” The important point here is that the framework for discussion is not about how Jews obtained elite status in society but about what Jews tend to do with their elite status and influence. To the Wagners, as with Solzhenitsyn, Dostoevsky, and Jung, the Jewish Question is primarily about the hostility or culturally antagonistic behavior of a powerful Jewish elite. This contrasts sharply with Jordan Peterson’s statement that Jews are “smart people working hard for our mutual advancement.”
Cosima, Wagner’s wife, wrote to Nietzsche expressing concern. Starting by citing Goethe (“Everything significant is uncomfortable”), she said that his “boldness” and “bluntness” surprised her. In a later letter she makes her concerns more explicit, stating that she wanted him to take some “maternal” advice so that he should “avoid stirring up a hornet’s nest”:
Do you really understand me? Don’t mention the Jews, and especially not en passant; later, when you want to take up this gruesome fight, in the name of God, but not at the very outset, so that on your path you won’t have all this confusion and upheaval. I hope you don’t misunderstand me: you know that in the depths of my soul I agree with your utterance. But not now and not in this way.
According to Cosima’s diaries, Nietzsche was summoned to a meeting with Wagner and her on February 12 to discuss the lecture. We can only speculate at what precisely was said, but Nietzsche dropped the Jewish reference from the published version of his lecture, and nothing similar to it would ever again appear in his speeches or published writings. He would continue to attack the evils of the press, newspapers, financial affairs, the stock exchange, modernity, urban life, and cosmopolitanism — but he would never again mention them in conjunction with Jews or Judaism. Holub argues that the episode taught Nietzsche that he should not mention the Jews by name and certainly not attack them in print. He would thereafter adopt the same “cultural code” that many anti-Jewish intellectuals were forced to utilize as a means of fighting the culture war without being labelled “anti-Semitic.”
Ultimately, however, the greatest of Nietzsche’s “replies” to Jordan Peterson may lie in his personal example. Like Jordan Peterson, Nietzsche came to surround himself with Jewish fans, and courted Jews with occasionally exuberant philo-Semitic statements. Nietzsche also possessed an ego and arrogance that led to antagonism towards Wagner, his artistic mentor, rather than appreciation for sage advice. Nietzsche distanced himself from Wagner and from the Jewish Question for the remainder of his life, beginning in the mid-1870s. In early drafts of Untimely Meditations (1876) probably dating to around 1874, Nietzsche searched for criticisms of the composer. Among them was the accusation that Wagner was a tyrant who could not appreciate the validity of anyone but those among his most trusted associates, causing him to be blind to “the validity of Brahms, etc., or the Jews.” He also accused Wagner, ironically in view of the latter’s crucial advice, of a grave political error in attacking the Jews “who now possess the most money and the press in Germany.”
The point here is that one can secretly be aware of Jewish power, and even agree that it is often expressed negatively, but still follow a philo-Semitic path for personal advancement. Nietzsche’s example here is fitting. His dedication to Voltaire of Human, All Too Human (1878–1880) marked the final stage of his break from the Wagnerian cultural mission. The rationalist Frenchman was anathema to the German romantic. The Wagners read the book, only to find it “strangely perverse” and full of “pretentious ordinariness.” The reason behind the change in quality of Nietzsche’s writing was, in their opinion, his growing association with the Jewish philosophy student Paul Rée. The association dated back to 1873, and Rée had accompanied Nietzsche on visits to the Wagners on a couple of occasions during those years. However, in 1876 Cosima’s suspicions were raised by aspects of Rée’s personality. In October 1876 she wrote in her diary: “In the evening we are visited by Dr. Rée, whose cold and precise character does not appeal to us; on closer inspection we come to the conclusion that he must be an Israelite.”
Wagner was extremely insistent that the Jew had ensnared his young former friend. Cosima around this date wrote to her husband that Nietzsche was essentially just a mirror that reflected the ideas or thoughts of whoever surrounded him. Nietzsche’s writings, borrowing heavily from Schopenauer and indeed Wagner himself, were “just reflections of something else, they did not come from within.” Wagner replied magnificently: “And now they are Rée-flections.” Cosima would later write to a friend that Human, All Too Human bore an undeniable Jewish imprint:
The author has undergone a process that I saw coming for a long time, and that I struggled against with my meagre powers. Many things came together to produce that deplorable book! Finally, Israel intervened in the form of a Dr. Rée, very sleek, very cool, at the same time being captivated by Nietzsche and dominated by him, though actually outwitting him: the relationship of Judea to Germania in miniature. … I know that here evil has been victorious. … Wagner himself asserts about Nietzsche that a flower could have come from this bulb. Now only the bulb remains, really a loathsome thing.
Like Nietzsche, Jordan Peterson appears to have heavily associated with Jews for some time, a fact that may have caused Peterson to engage in his own “Rée-flections.” The foreword to 12 Rules for Life was written by a Jewish man named Norman Doidge, who met Peterson at a party organized by Jews Wodek Szemberg and Estera Bekier. As a piece of writing, it is highly patronizing and places Peterson fully within the category of useful goy. He is also presented as a rough-edged, quasi-rural figure in contrast with the ordinarily sophisticated and, one assumes, Jewish urbanites who normally attended such parties. To Doidge, Peterson “had the enthusiasm of a kid,” and “there was something boyish in the cowboy.” Indeed, Doidge uses the phrases “cowboy,” “rural,” “folksy,” and even “cowboy psychologist” more than ten times in five paragraphs (p.9), which is really an extraordinary set of descriptors for someone who, to “goy eyes” doesn’t merit any of these descriptions and doesn’t appear remotely “of the land.” That he evokes such sensations and impressions in Jews, however, is extremely interesting in showing that Jews see Peterson as the quintessential “other”—as a paradigmatic goy.
This is not to say that the foreword is not flattering of Peterson. It is. But the ways in which it is flattering are interesting to say the least. Take, for example, Doidge’s remark that he “had never before met a person, born Christian and of my generation, who was so utterly tormented by what happened in Europe to the Jews, and who had worked so hard to understand how it could have occurred.” How has Peterson “worked so hard to understand how it could have occurred”? Thus far, he appears to have written less than 2,000 words regurgitating Sartre, devoid of footnotes illustrating any serious reading in the subjects of Jewish history or anti-Semitism. “Working hard,” we must assume, is in reference less to gaining an understanding of historical European-Jewish relations than advancing an understanding of Jewish victimhood and blamelessness—an understanding that Jews of course find highly beneficial.
Peterson is a favorite of Quillette, an online magazine founded by Jewish academic Claire Lehmann that postures as advocating for “free thought” and putatively ‘dangerous’ and ‘subversive’ conservative ideas. In reality, Quillette, which has promoted the paper-thin analyses of Kevin MacDonald by Nathan Cofnas (without allowing MacDonald to reply), advances standard neoconservativism and has posted a large number of articles condemning anti-Semitism (see, for example, here, here, and here) and defending Israel (see their archive here). The magazine should best be seen as a stellar example of a growing phenomenon I’ve discussed previously—a slow shift of Jews from the traditional Left (where extensive, unpredictable anti-Israel sentiment is making it a cold house for Jews), to a new milquetoast center that defends and promotes Israel, babbles about free speech, and attracts the unsophisticated with token gestures to the Right (opposition to the more extreme expressions of the LGBT agenda, objections to trans terminology, and baiting the odd Muslim) without ever broaching matters of race or immigration in a meaningful way, and certainly without ever acknowledging the Jewish Question as a reality. Indeed, in a telling turn of events that brings us almost full circle, Quillette posts pieces from the Russian-Jewish writer Cathy Young (born Ekaterina Jung), who has previously written an article attacking “the anti-Semitism of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.” Such facts illuminate the sheer oddity of Peterson’s role in these matters—a figure just edgy enough to attract the masses without endangering the status quo; just compliant enough to merit promotion; and just enough of a “folksy cowboy” to entangle himself with a clique that trashes his own heroes because they weren’t quite so compliant.
I’ve written previously that a key weakness of Nietzsche appears to have been his incomplete understanding of the nature of Jewish influence in German culture and society, and his egotistic willingness to accept Jews as friends and associates if he perceived them to be useful in advancing his own personal fame and fortunes. Perhaps, the best assessment of, and reply to, Jordan Peterson thus comes via Nietzsche, from the Wagners:
A flower could have come from this bulb. Now only the bulb remains, really a loathsome thing.