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Memories of Dr. Oscar Levy

6,112 words

Editor’s Note:

Dr. Oscar Levy (March 28, 1867–August 13, 1946), was a German-born Jewish physician and Nietzsche scholar who between 1909 and 1913, oversaw the publication of an 18-volume edition of Nietzsche’s writings in English translation. Ludovici translated several of Nietzsche’s books for this edition.

What follows are selections from Anthony M. Ludovici, Confessions of an Anti-Feminist: The Autobiography of Anthony M. Ludovici, ed. John V. Day, ch. 3, “My Education, I (1882–1910)” and ch. 7, “My Friends, II.” The section headings are my creations. Unless otherwise indicated, all notes are by Ludovici. John V. Day’s notes are marked JVD, and additional notes are marked GJ. Those who have already read “My Education, I” should click here to skip to the excepts from chapter 7. For Levy’s views of Jews and Bolshevism, click here.

Chapter 3

Oscar Levy

Soon after my return to England [in 1908] I was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Dr. Oscar Levy just at the very time when he happened to be contemplating the production of a complete edition of Nietzsche’s works in English, and he not only solicited my help in this venture but was also chiefly responsible for arranging the two courses of lectures on Nietzsche which I delivered at University College London in the late autumn of 1908 and December 1910.

Dr. Oscar Levy was a Jewish medical man of exceptional intelli­gence and charm whose superior gifts really unfitted him for the routine drudgery of medical practice. By this I mean no disparagement of the general medical practitioner. I merely wish to call attention to the fact that even those callings which demand high mental qualities and exceptional skill may, owing to the extreme specialization of the facul­ties they call into play and the narrow limitations of the interests they offer, prove unsatisfying to men of versatile gifts. This has always been so, and from Rabelais to Smollett, Conan Doyle, and Somerset Maugham has led to the same result—the pursuit of letters by a man who found medicine tedious.

At all events, Levy always frankly admitted that his patients bored him, and, although his great gentleness, extreme urbanity, and consider­able gifts of sympathy and perspicacity might easily have secured him a large and lucrative practice, he preferred the less busy life of a police doctor and the ample leisure this left him to indulge his principal tastes, which lay in the direction of literature, social intercourse, and philoso­phic meditation. In my first novel, Mansel Fellowes,[1] I tried to depict him for posterity, and the fact that he was delighted with the book, and, I believe, presented copies of it to numerous friends and acquaintances, seems to indicate that my portrait of him was at least no caricature.

He used to spend a good deal of his time in the reading-room of the British Museum, and it was there that, after having had his attention drawn to me by the large number of books on Nietzsche which I daily appropriated, he ultimately made my acquaintance.

He gave me several of Nietzsche’s works to translate, including the first Unzeitgemässe Betrachtung, Götzendämmerung, Der Antichrist, Der Wille zur Macht and Ecce Homo, and these I did in the order stated.[2]

There has been much severe criticism of this translation, but I think that when the immense difficulties of the work are taken into consid­eration and due allowance has been made for the relatively small number of discrepancies, many of which are obviously the result of careless proof-reading or even of original typescript-reading, it will be granted that those who, like Dr. Levy himself, Friedrich Sternthal (the brilliant Berlin critic), and others, including Dr. G. T. Wrench, have only praise for the translation, were not only more discerning but, above all, more fair than its detractors. This does not mean that I fail to deplore the fact that my versions should contain flaws, or that I do not regret the excessive haste and carelessness with which my translations were prepared for the press. But I think it is only right to point out that there has been gross exaggeration, if not actual malice (the source of which I believe I know), in describing the translation as “scandalously inaccu­rate.”

What were the circumstances under which, for instance, Volume 16[3] of the authorized English translation came into being? When these have been examined, the reader will be in a position to measure the justice of its wholesale condemnation.

To begin with, we translators, working as a team, were expected to read and check each other’s work before it went to press, so as to ensure accuracy by eliminating typing and printing errors, repairing omissions and oversights, and correcting actual mistranslations. It may be difficult to explain how and why, but this provision against error was certainly seldom conscientiously put into practice. We were all over-anxious to get our work through quickly and inclined to look on this extra unpaid duty (which really amounted to performing one’s own translation of another man’s book) as rather a tiresome corvée.[4] The consequence was that, whilst the arrangement inspired a certain amount of confidence and appeared to guarantee some security against inaccu­racy, both of these aims were in fact defeated owing to the enormous labors such revision entailed and the perfunctoriness with which they were usually performed. This is not to suggest that the neglect of which we were all to some extent guilty was deliberately practiced to reduce the credit of our colleagues as translators, but I do know that I for one, in revising other men’s translations, often worked at a speed incom­patible with perfect vigilance.

Secondly, Levy himself was inclined to be much too trustful and lenient. He was too much of a gentleman and too little of a martinet to take his editorial duties as strictly and as seriously as a less amiable and more industrious man would have done. He was, moreover, often too diffident and considerate about compelling the adoption of improve­ments suggested. I, for instance, had to revise Common’s Zarathustra, and as an example of the procedure I see from my notes that I found altogether twenty errors in Part I alone, although few of these were ultimately accepted. Moreover, in Section XX of Part I[5] I strongly rec­ommended a modification which, although warmly approved by Dr. Levy, he declined, out of regard for old Common, to force upon him. It related to the seventh verse of the section. Nietzsche’s words are: “Nicht nur fort sollst du dich pflanzen, sondern hinauf!”

Common’s version of this read: “Not only onward shall thou propa­gate thyself, but upward!” I maintained that no English Nietzsche would ever have used such terms to express the idea in question and suggested that a better translation, more in keeping with Nietzsche’s epigrammatic style, would have been: “Let your descendants be your ascent.” As I say, however, Levy was too loath to risk hurting Com­mon’s feelings to insist on the necessary alteration. This was by no means an exceptional occurrence, and it was hardly encouraging.

Dr. Levy’s handsome acknowledgement of my services in his pref­ace to the third edition of The Will to Power may, in view of the way in which my translation has been vilified, sound strange and undeserved, but at least it shows that opinion regarding the quality of my work is divided.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to relate all I owe to Dr. Oscar Levy and to express the gratitude I feel for the substantial advantages I enjoyed through my close association with him during the six years preceding the First World War. Only through him and the remunerative employment he gave me early in my literary career was I able to obtain the leisure and opportunity for that extended study and increased knowledge of the world which I so much needed to repair the worst defects in my education. It was also entirely to him and the influ­ence he wielded in certain literary and academic circles in both London and the provinces that my first lecture courses were arranged and received public attention. He was, moreover, responsible for finding me my first publishers, Foulis and Constable, and for introducing me to the New Age circle, whose leader, A. R. Orage, soon appointed me art critic of his famous weekly.

Nor does this list of benefits which I owed to Levy, formidable though it may seem, exhaust the counts of my indebtedness to him, for, thanks to what some of my more bitter critics may regard as his “inex­plicable” fondness for my company, he began very early in our acquaintance to invite me to join him on holidays at various coastal resorts and often to give me the means of taking such periods of rest alone. Thus, we would go off to Bournemouth, Westgate, Folkestone, or Eastbourne together, and sometimes even take a little work with us.

The Grand Tour

What I owed to him above all, however, was the grand tour which I made as his traveling companion in 1910, when we stayed at, among other places, Dresden (Hotel zum Prinzen?), Munich (Hotel Lein­felder), Venice (Hotel Victoria), Florence (Hotel Bonciani), Athens (Hotel Minerva), Smyrna (Grand Hotel Huck), Jerusalem (Hotel Fast), Jaffa (Hotel Jerusalem), and Cairo (Khedivial Hotel).

I thus was able to visit all the principal art galleries, museums, and monuments of southern Europe and the Near East, and to complete more or less my knowledge of the art treasures of the modern world. It was an unforgettable and invaluable experience and coincided with what was certainly the highlight of my friendship with Levy. He was a delightful companion, as most clever Jews always are, understanding instantly what one said and not holding up the conversation, as so many Englishmen will, in order to have elementary psychological truths ex­plained. (He was, moreover, a most generous host throughout, display­ing that aristocratic unconcern about expenditure which sets dependants completely at their ease and is one of the more pleasant by-products, if not the best proof, of a long tradition of power in a family line. The behavior of a parvenu in similar circumstances at once reveals the relative recentness of his affluence.

Strange to say, and quite contrary to our expectations, the place which in the course of our travels made the deepest impression upon both of us was not Venice, Florence, or Athens, but “Jerusalem the golden,” whose beauty and majesty, possibly because unexpected, we both found staggering. No epithet could be more apt than “golden” to describe the picture this city presents to the traveler, and on the strength of that word alone the Rev. J. M. Neale, who wrote Hymn 228 in Hymns Ancient and Modern, or else Bernard of Cluny, the author of the original hymn of which Neale’s is an English version, may confi­dently be suspected of having seen the Holy City at some time in his life.

At all events, it was the only place throughout our journey where I felt irresistibly tempted to do any sketching, and I brought back several water-colors, one of which—that of the eastern view of the city, crowned by the beautiful Omar Mosque built on the site of the ancient Temple of Solomon—I painted from Siloa, the little hill village lying on the height opposite Jerusalem, across the Valley of Kedron. Levy liked the picture so much that when we returned to England I had to make several copies of it for himself and friends.

I knew perhaps too much about Greece and the baneful influence its more famous and later philosophers, especially Socrates, had exerted over European thought to feel strongly prepossessed in its favor, and the time we spent at Athens afforded me very little pleasure. Both Levy and I were depressed rather than edified by the ruins of the Acropolis, for nothing can look more desolate and ugly than classical architecture dismembered and disintegrating. We therefore found the sight of the Parthenon, like a gigantic decayed molar crowning the city, anything but exhilarating, and this impression certainly accounted for our excep­tional behavior on a certain occasion at our Athens hotel. When we were all sitting at dinner one evening, our landlord announced that the Minister of the Interior had just kindly sent round to say that he had arranged for a party to view the Parthenon by moonlight that night and, in order that the necessary transport could be provided, he invited us to signify by a show of hands whether we wished to avail ourselves of the offer or not. The response was enthusiastic. All but Levy and me signi­fied their assent, and it was not difficult to sense the perplexity, not to say the froid,[6] which our indifference to the romantic prospect provoked in our fellow-guests.

The incessant chatter of the population, their shrill wrangles and noisy street calls, the buzz of which remained audible even at the sum­mit of the Lycabettos, were also exasperating. They were a constant reminder of the querulous, loquacious, and hybrid stocks composing the local inhabitants—all Levantines of dubious origin, indescribably ugly and bewilderingly heterogeneous. The streets, moreover, were in a deplorable state of age-long neglect, and it was odd to see a low jerry-built structure bearing the words GYNAKON one end and ANDRON[7] at the other, whilst in front of the palace the king’s carriage had got stuck fast in a deep rut.

The Royal Gardens at the back of the palace were then perhaps the most attractive part of Athens, at least to me, and on 14th of February 1910 we sat there in glorious sunshine, as hot as on a June day in Eng­land, amid orange trees, beds of violets and pleasant lawns, and we watched the king’s grandchildren playing under the eye of an attendant. For although Wednesdays and Fridays were supposed to be the only public visiting-days in the gardens, the guard who had at first barred our way soon proved more accommodating when Levy handed him a handsome tip.

It is not surprising, after this, that we were perhaps unduly overawed by the medieval grandeur and beauty of Jerusalem, although when I now dwell on all the experiences of that grand tour I cannot help sus­pecting that it was the wholly unanticipated splendor of Jerusalem, its almost mint medieval state, and the dignity and picturesque old-world charm of its inhabitants that made it so disproportionately attractive to Levy and me. For, after all, although chiefly through the medium of books and other sources of information, we knew Greece before we got there. We had studied its monuments and its art, and we had long ago become familiar with the Elgin Marbles. Of Jerusalem, on the other hand, I, at least, knew nothing beyond what is said about it in the Gospels.

Everything I saw was strange and new to me—not that novelty alone necessarily has charm. In Jerusalem, however, it was coupled with so much of antiquarian interest, beauty, and calm, primitive industry that at every step one seemed to draw nearer and nearer to the heart of a bygone culture. Another probable cause of the greater pleas­ure that Jerusalem gave us was its convincing air of superior genuine­ness and authenticity. Although its inhabitants, their daily chores, and their environment transported us both at one stroke to a period almost barbaric, at least every feature of Jerusalem life was in keeping; noth­ing jarred the harmony of the scene or jolted one by its incongruity. Few, if any, discordant notes, and hardly any anachronisms, marred the picture of a homogeneous medieval culture. Athens, on the other hand, struck one as offensively bastard. There, surrounded by the decrepit monuments of a glorious past, the scene was crowded with the tawdry and vulgar excrescences of a modern city. Like an Earl’s Court travesty of some Western metropolis, Athens in 1910 looked counterfeit. With its ancient background in ruins, it had the air of a centenarian tricked out to resemble her own great-grandchild. I have no idea what it looks like now, but that was certainly how it appeared to me fifty years ago.

Nor, after Jerusalem, could I place even Cairo and Egypt uppermost among the memorable experiences of my tour. The vast distance of time separating the monuments of Egypt from her modern cities cer­tainly gave a less discordant impression than the shorter interval did in Greece, and, odd though it may sound, these monuments seemed to present a less striking contrast to the upstart styleless buildings about them. Their austere and simple silhouettes, not unlike natural features, blended more perfectly with the urban landscape. But there could be no question about the relative beauty of the two places, and I doubt whether any traveler would dispute the justice of handing the palm to Palestine’s capital.

We were both greatly depressed by the prevalence of eye disease in Syria and Egypt and, in a desperate attempt to awaken the adult women at least to the importance of hygiene in this respect, I remember that I used to go about the market-place in Jerusalem and wave a fan over the faces of their babies to scare away the clusters of flies that collected on their eyes as they lay sleeping beside their mothers’ display of vegeta­bles and fruit. But it was no good. Although the mothers did not seem to resent my action, they looked upon it merely as the vagary of an eccentric foreigner. Indeed, when Levy and I visited the German hos­pital and spoke to Dr. Wallach about the matter, he said the situation was almost hopeless. The fellahin had no notion either of cleanliness or hygiene. I suggested that the girls, at least, might be made accessible to more enlightened ideas by appealing to their vanity. If it were pointed out that the terrible disfigurement of trachoma could be avoided by proper care, surely they would be anxious to learn what they should do. But Dr. Wallach said he had found even that expedient of no avail.

Except for the journey from Jaffa to Alexandria, which we per­formed, malgré nous,[8] in a disgusting Russian steamer, the Cezare­vich, full of pilgrims and vermin, whose captain had the effrontery to sit at the head of our dining-table and, under our very eyes, to eat a specially cooked meal very much superior to our own, we traveled on the liners of the Messageries Maritimes, the Portugal and the Saghalien, and I thought them excellent in every respect. The vin ordinaire at meals was ad lib.,[9] the cooking was first-class, and the cabin accommoda­tion most comfortable. There was, however, a brief exception to this rule, for we performed the trip from Trieste to Patras in a very fine ship of the Aus­trian Lloyd Line which also provided us with every comfort and excel­lent food.

Notes

[1] Anthony M. Ludovici, Mansel Fellowes (London: Grant Richards, 1918).—GJ.

[2] Thoughts out of Season [Part 1], The Twilight of the Idols, The Anti-Christ, The Will to Power, and Ecce Homo (Behold the Man)—JVD. Ludovici also translated The Case of Wagner, Nietzsche Contra Wagner, and Selected Aphorisms for The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 8 (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1911; New York: Macmillan, 1924).—GJ.

[3] Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols: Or, How to Philosophise with the Hammer; The Antichrist; Notes to Zarathustra, and Eternal Recurrence, The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 16 (Edinburgh: T. N. Foulis, 1911).—GJ.

[4] Unpaid labor—JVD.

[5] “Child and Marriage”—JVD.

[6] Chill—JVD.

[7] Women and Men—JVD.

[8] In spite of ourselves—JVD.

[9] The house wine was free of charge.—JVD.

Chapter 7

My return to England in the summer of 1908 opened a period in my life, during which I formed many friendships with men, for in the few years that preceded the outbreak of the First World War I became a member of the Nietzsche and the New Age groups. Of these friend­ships, by far the most delightful and profitable were those I enjoyed with Drs. Oscar Levy and G. T. Wrench, both brilliant men whose com­panionship was a constant source of interest and pleasure.

Levy was a man of peculiar charm. Like his personal appearance, his mind was elegant and polished. It harbored no dowdy theories or ideals, rejected all the sordid details of life, and was tastefully furnished with the best products of European culture. Witty, always genial and good-tempered, and ever-eager to show his appreciation of any enlight­ening remark one might contribute to the conversation, he was a stimulating companion. Although he had a lot to say, he was a good listener and, if presented with a personal problem, his advice was always helpful.

Like Wrench, he belonged to that breed of medical men who are above their calling, turn to literature as a release from its drudgery, and, like Montaigne, never cease from betraying their secret contempt of it. Both men were abreast of the latest discoveries in psychology, but whereas Levy, anticipating much of what Adler subsequently claimed, found Freud’s work unsatisfying, Wrench was more inclined to accept the Freudian psychology as valid.

The three of us became much attached to one another, always enjoyed meeting and lost no opportunity of doing so. As already pointed out, Levy repeatedly invited me to join him when he took a short holiday on the South Coast, and I have no doubt that these favors shown to me by the head of the group were instrumental in fomenting much of the ill-feeling which ultimately turned the Nietzsche fraternity into a hotbed of denigration and deliberate slander. Nor did Levy’s final and most generous invitation to me in 1910 to join him on his tour of Italy, Greece, Syria, Palestine, and Egypt tend to mend matters in this respect.

The fact that we enjoyed being together must have been plain to all our associates, and as Levy’s natural nobility prevented him from ever making me feel my many obligations to him, the relationship, as far as I was concerned, was ideal. I have since observed this particular form of nobility in rich Jews and have come to the conclusion that it is probably an inheritance from ancestors accustomed to affluent circum­stances and to the patronage of dependents. It is certainly less notice­able in Gentile upstarts, no matter how rich they may be.

What chiefly drew Levy and me together was the similarity of our tastes. My French realism matched his own Jewish aversion from roman­ticism and all forms of cloud-cuckoo dreams, whilst his prefer­ence for a bachelor’s life was rooted in a belief, common to us both, that by and large modern women, as he constantly declared, had become ‘too impu­dent.’ He ultimately married the mistress with whom he was living at his flat in Museum Street, where I first met him. But he did so under the pressure of the peculiar circumstances created for aliens, especially Ger­mans, by the outbreak of World War I, and even after his marriage, when he left England to settle down in Wiesbaden, he led the life of a married bachelor rather than that of the average spouse.

Until late in the second decade after World War I only one discor­dant note marred the harmony of our relationship, and that was his total inability to understand my taste for the kind of humor to be found in books like Through the Looking-Glass and Alice in Wonderland, and I well remember strolling with him one Sunday morning along the Bois de Boulogne, trying in vain to make him see the rich fun and irony of some of the best passages in these two books.

I had always thought Carroll’s two masterpieces untranslatable. But after all Levy was a good English scholar and did not need to have the text translated. He was, however, by no means the only German I met who was inaccessible to Carroll’s humor, although the superb trans­lation of the ‘Jabberwocky’ in the German version of Through the Looking-Glass proves that Carroll’s works have been well understood by at least one German, and in a manner that leaves the French transla­tion far behind.

It was only later on, in the middle thirties, that a further and more serious cause of disagreement arose between us, and that was over Mussolini, whom Levy had visited in Italy. Like Wrench, Levy greatly admired the man, disliked my repeated criticisms of him and rejected my view that at bottom he was a mountebank. Ultimately, Levy admit­ted his mistaken judgement in the matter, but for a time our correspon­dence about it was considerably embittered, and although I never actu­ally crossed swords with Wrench about Mussolini I gathered that he sided with Levy.

It has since struck me that even in those far-off days, with his keen powers of observation and acute sensitiveness, Levy was probably well aware of my failings as a friend. Although he himself seemed ready to overlook these shortcomings, he was evidently not blind to their unto­ward effect on other people. Thus, whenever I told him of any differ­ence that had occurred between me and another member of our set, he always exclaimed: ‘Flatter him, Ludo! Flatter him!’ He never explained exactly what he meant by this, but I feel sure he intended me to understand not that I should try toadying or fawning to the person in question, but that I should employ all those little arts of attention and consideration which make a man feel that you regard him as important and worthy. This was precisely the kind of behavior I was least capa­ble of, and the fact that Levy had perceived this, and whilst remaining my friend constantly warned me about it, shows that, although he him­self was prepared to overlook my defect, he was anxious to spare me the consequences of it in my dealings with other people.

It is now, however, idle to wish that I might more diligently have followed his advice, for one cannot alter one’s character, and, if such behavior as Levy recommended did not come naturally and spontane­ously to me, had I tried to put it into practice I should only have betrayed its deliberateness by either bungling or overdoing it.

Levy and I remained the fastest friends until about 1936–7, when two unfortunate developments suddenly brought our disagreements to a head and finally wrecked our long friendship.

I must first explain that for some time—ever since 1915, in fact, when I had published my Defence of Aristocracy—Levy had disap­proved of my policy of presenting the Nietzschean values in books and articles not professedly concerned with Nietzsche’s own writings. He thought there was far too little about Nietzsche in much that I wrote, especially in the book in question. I, on the contrary, believed that the best and subtlest way of illustrating and advocating the Nietzschean Weltanschauung was to employ an indirect approach and to show through history and current events how the application of Nietzschean values would prove salutary.

However, my disagreement with Levy on this matter, although a cause of some friction, never threatened to lead to any breach between us. But when once the National Socialist Party under Hitler came into prominence, and claims began to be made about the Nietzschean source of some of the Party’s tenets, Levy expected from me a course of action I was conscientiously unwilling to adopt.

Knowing as I did the development of Nietzsche’s thought from his early pro-Wagnerian days to his ultimate breakdown, I took the view that the essential Nietzsche, the doctrines recognized by all authorita­tive Nietzschean scholars as most characteristic of his thought, were to be found in the works published after 1882, including his world-famous Thus Spake Zarathustra. And as I saw in many aspects of these later works ideas which might well have inspired some of the more important features of the Nazi teaching, I did not mind saying so and actually supporting my contention in a series of articles published in the English Review.[1]

Meanwhile, however, I had learnt to my surprise that Levy was taking the view that Nietzsche’s most important and characteristic works, those that most truly represented the core of his teaching, consisted of those published before 1882. Furthermore, at an important stage in the controversy a book appeared in France, written by M. P. Nicolas, entitled De Nietzsche à Hitler,[2] in which by means of stagger­ing feats of legerdemain the author contrived, to his own satisfaction at least, to prove what Levy was anxious to establish—namely, that the essential and genuine Nietzsche was the author of only those books that had appeared before 1882. At Levy’s suggestion, Nicolas presented me with a copy of his book, the impudence and disingen­uousness of which so greatly shocked me that I immediately wrote to the author pointing out the palpable weakness and speciousness of his case. I quoted Dr Mügge’s claim to the effect that it is the Nietzsche of the period 1882 to the end that is the Nietzsche ‘as usually meant by that name,’ and that it is in that period that ‘occurs the greatest display of originality.’[3]

Before 1882, Nietzsche is either deeply under the influence of his scholastic training or else under that of other men. At all events, I stood firmly by the view that the works of Nietzsche’s last period contained the essential principles of his teaching, and seeing that in my various prefaces to the translations I had made, in my own three monographs on Nietzsche and in my commentaries I had adopted this point of view with Levy’s complete approval, it seemed to me extraordinary that he should suddenly assume the position taken up by Nicolas, more espe­cially as Nietzsche himself, in a letter of 21st June 1888 to Professor Karl Knortz of Evansville, Indiana, advising him which of his own books he should read first, said: ‘I should be almost inclined to advise you to start by reading the latest of my books which are the most far-reaching and the most important (Beyond Good and Evil and Geneal­ogy of Morals).’[4]

Surely this should have been conclusive. When, however, we bear in mind that it is easier to light on at least rough analogies between many of his doctrines of this last period and those professed by the National Socialists of Germany in the thirties of this century than it is to find corresponding similarities in the works published before 1882, Levy’s volte-face and the thesis championed by Nicolas immediately acquire a new complexion. And we are left with the suspicion that, after the ascendancy of the Nazis in Germany, Levy must have felt it not only politic, but also actually enjoined by his loyalty to his hero and master, to try to prove that the Nietzsche to whose doctrines the Nazis claimed adherence was not the true Nietzsche at all. Conse­quently, all the books published after 1882, in which the majority of the similarities between Nietzscheanism and some of the National Socialist beliefs are to be found—I referred to only a few of these in my English Review articles—were, if not actually negligible, not to be regarded as representative of genuine Nietzschean thought. Only thus in Levy’s view, or so it appeared, could Nietzsche be exculpated from the charge of having inspired the hated Nazis.

Without in the least wishing either to defend National Socialism or to discredit Nietzsche, I refused to subscribe to this point of view, which I thought both gratuitous and purely opportunist; and Nicolas’s book, besides being a poor production in itself, seemed to me calcu­lated only to mislead the ill-informed. Even Nicolas’s running criticism of Julien Benda’s many references to Nietzsche in La trahison des clercs,[5] most of which are drawn from the books of the last period, struck me as disingenuous and unfair.

Levy was very angry—so angry that, quite unjustifiably, he began telling everybody that I had gone over to the Nazis, was therefore an anti-Semite and had deserted both him and Nietzsche. Later on, he even wrote to one of my most devoted readers in America, William Simpson, accusing both him and me of infidelity to the ‘true’ Nietzsche and of having adopted what he called ‘the Wagnerian heresy,’ by which he meant anti-Semitism.[6] Simpson sent me these letters, and in that of the earlier date Levy, referring to the Nietzschean movement, said of my attitude: ‘Nothing of course would have hurt Nietzsche more in the long run. But our present position would have been com­promised if I had not counteracted Ludovici’s Wagnerian heresy. I did so very early and already in 1936 I encouraged a French friend [Nico­las is meant] to write a book against the German and English Nazi interpretation of Nietzsche . . . when Ludovici received a copy of this book he wrote back to the author, “Your book is a catastrophe.”’

I certainly felt entitled to tell Nicolas that his book was a catastro­phe, because I repudiated Levy’s view that what he called the ‘German and English Nazi interpretation of Nietzsche’ was wholly spurious. The implication was that, because it was based on the books published after 1882, therefore it was to be rejected as representative of Nietzsche’s thought. When I wrote to Nicolas I explained that I disap­proved wholly of his attitude because I believed, as I still do, that if we overlook Nietzsche’s own open avowal and the traditional view of his teaching held by all competent Nietzsche scholars, and proclaim his pre-1882 writings as more essentially authentic than the later ones, we not only lose most of the more valuable, characteristic and innovatory aspects of his teaching, but also do both him and the ill-informed pub­lic a serious injury.

Grave as was this difference from Levy, it might in other and less agitated times still have failed to wreck our friendship and blot out the memory of all we had been to each other. But those readers who can recall the atmosphere in western Europe and especially in England at the time when this controversy arose and who are able to appreciate what it meant to a man, particularly a publicist like myself, to be openly charged with Nazi sympathies and above all with anti-Semi­tism—all such readers will perhaps understand how deep were the wounds Levy’s angry propaganda inflicted on me. Much later on, in 1945, he wrote to me from Oxford seeking a reconciliation. But as I felt that I could not then respond with any sincerity to his appeal, I replied that I felt no wish to renew our relationship.

It was all most deplorable. I had been very fond of Levy and owed him countless favors and generous services. No-one could remain long in company without feeling the fascination of his personality, the charm of his manners, the versatility of his mind and the ever-compel­ling but subtle persuasion of his handsome Jewish features. Only the fierce ani­mosities and fanatical ideological prejudices of the late thir­ties could, I felt, have blinded him to the fundamental unsoundness of his own and Nicolas’s pleas in favor of the pre-1882 Nietzsche, and to this day I remain convinced that, but for the association of some of Nietzsche’s doctrines with the policy and practice of the Nazis, we should never have heard of this relatively belated and heterodox exal­tation of the books of Nietzsche’s early period.

So ended another great friendship, in bitterness and open war. Yet I still do not see how I could conscientiously have adopted a different attitude.

He died on 10th August 1946 at Oxford. He was in his eightieth year, and I never knew the nature of his last illness. Philip Mairet asked me to write the obituary for The New English Weekly. I did so and in it tried to do full justice to him as a man and a thinker.[7] But my best and most sympathetic description of him is undoubtedly enshrined in my novel, Mansel Fellowes,[8] where as ‘Dr Melhado’ he plays the leading role. As he was delighted with this portrait of himself, and many of his closest friends acknowledged the fidelity of the likeness, I have no hesitation in recommending it to all those who may wish to obtain a close view of this lovable and, in many respects, remarkable man.

Notes

[1] ‘Hitler and the Third Reich,’ English Review 63, 1936, pp. 35–41, 147–53, 231–9; ‘Hitler and Nietzsche,’ English Review 64, 1937, pp. 44–52, 192–202.—Ed.

[2] Paris, 1936.

[3] Nietzsche: His Life and Works, 1909, Part III, Chapter 1.

[4] See the Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche, 1927, p. 323. His actual words were: ‘Fast möchte ich rathen mit den letzten Werke anzufangen, die die weitgreifendsten und wichtigsten sind (Jenseits von Gut und Böse und Genealogie der Moral).’

[5] Paris, 1927.

[6] Letters of 1st December 1945 and 11th July 1946.

[7] ‘Dr. Oscar Levy,’ The New English Weekly, 14th November 1946, pp. 49–50.

[8] London, 1918.

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3 Comments

  1. Lonewalker
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    A shame that such a friendship were to end like that, but it seems that Jews always chose the interests of their race over any personal interests. My interpretation is this: Regardless of what intellectual domain or ideology they might for the moment belong to, Jews can immediately rationalize their political views to fit into the purposes of their people as a whole, whenever the need arises.

    When Germany broke free in the 30′s it was of course natural for Oscar Levy to reshape his Nietzschian world view to better fit the anti-German agenda of international Jewry. An important process of this was of course to try to influence other Nietzschans to also become anti-Nazis, with Nicholas book being one of the tools. Having been part of the Nietzschean community for so long Levy probably knew how to shape his arguments for maximum effect when trying to influence the community to become anti-German.

    I can see the same thing happening in other domains of society. Jews active in the socialist moment framed their anti-Nazi arguments in socialist terms, Jews active in conservative circles framing their argument in conservative terms etc.

    For the Jews abstractions and ideologies are but tools to manipulate the goyim, while we always sincerely believe in the weirdest and most unrealistic of guiding principles, as long as they’re “moral” and “good”. For Ludovici it was unthinkable to distort Nietzsches philosophy in the way it was done in Nicholas book, but for Levy it followed naturally from his racial instinct. I remember a very good comment by Greg Johnson where he explained that Jews are basically “un-rational” in that they never actually believe in all the abstract theories they produce.

    • White Republican
      Posted January 13, 2012 at 3:52 am | Permalink

      Do Jews actually believe in the ideologies they peddle? I suspect that in one sense they do and in another sense they don’t. Jews select and use ideas on the basis of utility rather than validity, utility being determined by the criterion of “is it good for the Jews?” George Orwell’s concept of “doublethink” comes to mind here. As he defined it in 1984:

      “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them. The Party intellectual knows in which direction his memories must be altered; he therefore knows that he is playing tricks with reality; but by the exercise of doublethink he also satisfies himself that reality is not violated. The process has to be conscious, or it would not be carried out with sufficient precision, but it also has to be unconscious, or it would bring with it a feeling of falsity and hence of guilt. Doublethink lies at the very heart of Ingsoc, since the essential act of the Party is to use conscious deception while retaining the firmness of purpose that goes with complete honesty. To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies — all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.”

  2. Joe Owens
    Posted January 14, 2012 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    Dr. Oscar Levy

    ” We who have posed as the saviours of the world, we who have boasted of having given it ‘the’ Saviour, we are to-day nothing else but the world’s seducers, its destroyers, its incendiaries, its executioners. . . . We who have promised to lead you to a new heaven, we have finally succeeded in landing you into a new hell.”

    (in Preface to World Significance of the Russian Revolution by W. Pitt-Rivers, 1920.)

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