What is existential nihilism

European nihilism

Man in the midst of history pp 49-114 | Cite as

Reflections on the intellectual prehistory of the European war in 1940


Europe is a term that does not originate from itself, but from its essential antithesis to Asia. The Greeks presumably adopted the distinction between Europe and Asia from the Phoenicians, and the two opposite terms were found on Assyrian monuments: "ereb" (the land of darkness or the setting sun) and "asu" (the land of the rising sun). Europe is originally, and as long as it remains true to itself, politically and spiritually a counter-Asian power. The German word "Abendland" has a fuller sound. In contrast to the Orient, it means a movement towards the end that begins in the East but is completed in the West. “World history goes from east to west, because Europe is simply the end of world history, Asia the beginning […]. Here the external, physical sun rises and in the west it sets; but instead the inner sun of self-consciousness ascends there, which spreads a higher shine "1, namely the splendor of the absolutely free and therefore critical spirit, whose dangers and greatness the East is still unaware of today. Two young men, says Hegel2, developed the most beautiful and freest individuality in Europe when they were young: Achilles and Alexander the Great. »Achilles as the main character in the national enterprise of the Greeks against Troy [...]; Alexander, who placed himself at the head of the Greeks in the afterimage of Achilles and fulfilled the vengeance that was sworn to Asia. "

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  1. Hegel, Philosophy of history. Works, Vol. IX; P. 102 Google Scholar
  2. Ibid., P. 232. Google Scholar
  3. See M. Scheler, The genius of war, 1915, pp. 285ff. Google Scholar
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  5. Essai sur les moeurs et l’esprit des nations, 1757; see Kaegi's treatise in the journal »Corona« 1937/38, H. 1. Google Scholar
  6. Hearn only became critical of Japan in his last book: Japan, at Interpreation, 1904. Cf. More letters from B. H. Chamberlain to L. Hearn, Tokyo 1937, pp. 135 and 142. Google Scholar
  7. Rilke's letters from 1914 to 1926 and H. v. Hofmannsthal's essays: The touch of the spheres, 1931. Google Scholar
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  10. We characteristically use the one word "post-war" to refer to it, because this period was in fact still a phase of the war.Google Scholar
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  19. For the following, see the detailed account of Burkhardt's conception of history in my book on Burckhardt, Lucerne 1936 (All writings 7, pp. 39ff.). Google Scholar
  20. A characteristic document for this is the work by G. Benn, published in 1933, After nihilism.Google Scholar
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  38. Beyond Good and Evil, Aph. 242; see. Will to power, Aph. 128. Google Scholar
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  1. See also J. E. Spenle, La pensée allemande de Luther à Nietzsche, Paris 1934.Google Scholar
  2. Hegel, Letters, I. p. 194. Google Scholar
  3. Cf. Rilke: "It seems to me that there is only one thing left, one last valid one, the one thing that is necessary, authorize me to speak. «Google Scholar
  4. See H. Fiala [pseud. K. Löwith], Political decisionism: International Journal for Theory of Law, 1935, no. 2 (here p. 19ff.) Google Scholar
  5. Schlageter, a student at Freiburg University, took part in the uprisings against the French occupation army after the war, was shot for sabotage and canonized by National Socialism.Google Scholar
  6. The Japanese reader may be astonished that I am subjecting my "sensei" to such harsh and public criticism. But even this criticism of one's own teacher is only a special case of the fundamentally critical attitude of mind which characterizes us Europeans. Our gratitude towards the teacher does not contradict the sharpest confrontation with him; rather, we will often subject precisely what we have learned the most to the strictest criticism. Basically, the criticism of one's own teacher is at the same time one of oneself, because it means a critical distinction and separation of the student from his own past determined by the teacher. The radical polemics of Schelling against Fichte, of Hegel against Schelling, of Marx and Kierkegaard against Hegel and of Nietzsche against Wagner must also be understood as such an indirect criticism of themselves. Google Scholar
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  1. See B. H. Chamberlain's excellent remark to L. Hearn: More letters from B. H. Chamberlain to L. Hearn, Tokyo 1937, p. 135. Google Scholar
  2. See Chamberlain's letters to Hearn, op. Cit., P. 107: "Patriotism comes before everything, before Christianity, before humility, before even fair play and truth." Google Scholar
  3. In the journal »Dosetsu« 1938, No. 14. Google Scholar
  4. See the well-known poem by Fujita Tōko.Google Scholar
  5. See Hegel's analysis of theoretical education, XVI, pp. 142f. Google Scholar
  6. Hegel, XIII, p. 172; see IX, p. 234. Google Scholar
  7. See Burckhardt's lecture About the scientific merit of the Greeks, Complete Edition XIV, p. 244ff.Google Scholar
  8. A natural, because geographically and historically obvious reason and incentive for self-distinction and self-criticism is not offered by far-off and Christian Europe for Japan, but only by China. The intellectual consequences of the military-political confrontation with China will perhaps for the first time bring Japan back to itself in a decisive way from someone else and at the same time make it clear from itself - a process that contains as many opportunities as dangers for an island culture. In Europe, on the other hand, there has always been the need to compare oneself with others, to distinguish oneself from them and thereby become critical of oneself, because Europe comprises a variety of different nations that are directly adjacent to one another.Google Scholar
  9. The unparalleled unity and uniformity of Japanese culture is positively based on the development of established traditions. Within this uniform uniformity, however, an infinite variety of the finest variations and modifications of the stable basic forms has developed. They seem more or less insignificant to the European eye and ear, because our senses grasp less such palpable nuances than decided opposites, or, to put it in a parable: because our spiritual air of life is drier than in the humid climate of Japan, where the hard and clear forms of colors and things as if in an all-encompassing and pervasive haze and mist. Anyone who has ever seen the marble temples on the bare rock of the Acropolis and the wooden shrines in the forest of Ise will understand what I mean here.Google Scholar
  10. An excellent characteristic of the Japanese use of intermediaries in all decisive matters of political and private life is, from the European point of view, E. Lederer, Japan Europe, 1929, pp. 77f., 119f. and 232. Google Scholar
  11. W. VII, 368ff. Google Scholar

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