(In this Chapter Divas shows how a perpetrating regime misrepresents a philosopher (like Divas ). Divas proves that one of the most influential thinkers of Modern History Nietzche’s Superman was falsely represented by the Nazi regime as an excuse for the Holocaust. Divas also makes it clear what Nietzche really meant by his symbol of Übermensch – the Superman. )
Although it’s difficult to give a precise definition, existentialism can be seen as the analysis of human situation with the individual at the center of all phenomena. Thus, existentialism may be called the philosophy of the individual. Existential analyses of human individual are found in the works of early literary writers and philosophers as well. Thomas Flynn claims that even Socrates (469–399 BC) can be called an existential philosopher for the latter’s practice of philosophy as “‘care of the self’ (epimeleia heautou)” (1).
Buddha has also been considered to be one of the early existential philosophers since he refused to discuss God and held the individual himself responsible for all the consequences. Søren Kierkegaard (1813-55) found fault with his times for ignoring the individual self with, “Each age has its characteristic depravity. Ours is perhaps not pleasure or indulgence or sensuality, but rather a dissolute pantheistic contempt for individual man” (qtd. in Stokes 145).
The Russian writer and thinker Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-81) whose works dramatize religious, moral, political and psychological issues is considered as an early existential novelist who portrayed his characters as anguished individuals struggling for their distinctive space in a harsh and hostile society. Hesse (1877-1962), too, who grew up during the last decades of the 19th century, is supposed to have been immensely influenced by his predecessors like Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche who were later identified as the forerunners of the existential movement.
Dostoevsky’s characters are involved in endless dilemma between right and wrong, good and evil and desperately struggle to free themselves from all societal bondage in quest of their own self. Coupled with his fine psychological insights into the anxieties and moral problems of the characters, Dostoevsky makes the existential point that human individuals can get salvation only by braving the intense suffering that life offers. Hesse seems to be very much influenced by Dostoevsky’s idea of salvation through suffering as Hesse himself makes all his characters including Siddhartha to go through intensely painful self-searching.
Both Dostoevsky and Hesse were anxious at Europe’s political, social and moral disintegration during their times. In his analysis of Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, Hesse reveals his admiration for the Russian novelist with, “It seems to me that European and especially German youth are destined to find their greatest writer in Dostoevsky–not in Goethe, not even in Nietzsche” (qtd. in Weber 248). Both writers believed that only a completely different kind of spiritual awareness was able to unite Europe emotionally once again. Two years before Siddhartha’s publication, Hesse wrote a review on Dostoevsky’s another novel The Idiot prophesizing, “The future is uncertain, but the road which he [Dostoevsky] shows can have but one meaning. It means a new spiritual dispensation” (qtd. in Girardot 303).While salvation was still a Christian idea for Dostoevsky, for Hesse, as Siddhartha shows, the new spiritual awakening was to come from Asia.
Another existentialist thinker, Nietzsche, who was to influence not only Hesse but generations of his posteriors called for a new species of human beings who could survive the God-less world. According to Stokes, Nietzsche wanted the individual to acquire, “what the existentialists would later give him, the power to be master of his own destiny” (147). In his allegorical work, Thus Spake Zarathustra, Nietzsche makes his Zarathustra to proclaim that “Dead are all the gods: now do we desire the Superman to live” (51).
Nietzsche was indicating that the traditional theological systems and their morality concepts which centered on the idea of all-powerful God would no longer hold validity in the new world. Nietzsche’s Superman survives life’s miseries and profound unhappiness through his will to power and affirms life joyously by going beyond the traditional boundaries of good and evil.
However, that Nietzsche opposed the Judeo-Christian worldview does not mean that he was anti-Semitic in his opinion. On the contrary, Nietzsche was outraged the way his prophet Zarathustra was maliciously misrepresented as the messiah of the anti-Semitic ideology. Nietzsche, in a letter, repudiates his sister for associating his works with the anti-Semitic propaganda:
“You have committed one of the greatest stupidities – for yourself and for me! Your association with an anti-Semitic chief expresses foreignness to my whole way of life which fills me ever again and again with ire or melancholy . . . It is a matter of honor to me to be absolutely clean and unequivocal in relation to anti-Semitism, namely opposed, as I am in my writings . . . that in every Anti-Semitic Correspondence Sheet the name of Zarathustra is used, has already made me almost sick several times” (qtd. in Schacht 217).
Even during the World War I, the German government published Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and distributed to every soldier along with the Bible as a source of inspiration. Nietzsche’s call for a superhuman character antagonistic to the Judeo-Christian worldview also inspired such deadly historic figures as Hitler and Mussolini.
The anti-Semitic Nazis propagandists collected Nietzsche’s works, manipulated and assembled them in such a way that the juxtaposition “wrongly gained the reputation of supporting Nazism, though his concept of the Übermensch or ‘superman’, is in fact closer to Aristotle’s man of virtue than the glorified Aryan hero” (Stokes 146).
Hesse himself was influenced by Nietzsche’s idea of equipping the individual with a magnificent “will to power” so that the individual could transcend his self and create the personal archetype of Übermensch – the Superman. However, Hesse was concerned over the way Nietzsche was being interpreted by the Nazi regime to brainwash German youths into racial war. Hesse published Zarathustra’s Return in 1919, just three years before Siddhartha. Zarathustra’s Return was Hesse’s own interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Zarathustra’s Return was written in the Nietschzean idiom to appeal to the youths who were influenced by Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and were manipulated by the German State. Hesse made his Zarathustra to “reject German false gods, Kaiser, and the drill sergeant” (Galbreath 68) to awaken the hidden God residing within each individual. Hesse makes the protagonist of his Bildungsroman Siddhartha achieve the Nietschzean Superman status by rebelling against all Gods, prophets, and doctrines and asserting his individuality by following his own self.