Tschandala (old German transcription of chandala) is a term Friedrich Nietzsche borrowed from the Indian caste system, where a Tschandala is a member of the lowest social class. Nietzsche's interpretation and use of the term relied on a flawed source but was used by some interpreters to connect him to Nazi ideology.
Nietzsche's use of the term
Nietzsche uses the term "Tschandala" in the Götzen-Dämmerung (Twilight of the Idols) and Der Antichrist (The Antichrist). Here he uses the "law of Manu“ with its caste system as an example of one kind of morality, of "breeding", as opposed to the Christian version of morality which attempts to "tame" man.
At first, Nietzsche describes methods of Christian attempts to "improve" humanity. As a metaphor, he uses a trained beast in a menagerie which is said to be "improved", but which in reality has lost vitality and is only weakened. In just such a way, Nietzsche says, has Christianity "tamed" the Teutonic races.
The law of Manu, on the other hand, tries to "improve" humanity by creating 4 castes of people, while ostracizing and making life miserable for the Tschandala, the untouchables. Nietzsche deplores this type of morality, that of the "breeder," just as he does the (Christian) "animal tamer", as he is opposed to all 'morality'. However, he much prefers it to the Christian "slave-morality." In his view, the humiliating and oppressive edicts against the Tschandala are a defensive means of keeping the castes pure:
"Yet this organization too found it necessary to be terrible—this time not in the struggle with beasts, but with their counter-concept, the unbred man, the mishmash man, the chandala. And again it had no other means for keeping him from being dangerous, for making him weak, than to make him sick—it was the fight with the "great number."
According to Nietzsche, Christianity is a product of Judaism, the "Tschandala-religion". By this he means that Judaism and Christianity after it are the morality born of the hatred of the oppressed (like the Tschandala) to their oppressors:
"Christianity, sprung from Jewish roots and comprehensible only as a growth on this soil, represents the counter-movement to any morality of breeding, of race, privilege:—it is the anti-Aryan religion par excellence. Christianity, the revaluation of all Aryan values, the victory of chandala values, the gospel preached to the poor and base, the general revolt of all the downtrodden, the wretched, the failures, the less favored, against "race": the undying chandala hatred as the religion of love…"
In The Antichrist, Nietzsche again cites the law of Manu, and favors it in a relative sense to the morality of Judeo-Christianity. Nietzsche describes the "most spiritual" and "strongest" men who can say "yes" to everything, even the existence of the Tschandalas; and opposed to this is the envious and revengeful spirit of the Tschandalas themselves (cf. master-slave morality). Nietzsche also uses the term Tschandala for some of his opponents, e.g. most prominently, egalitarianism-based forces, whose ultimate expression Nietzsche saw in both populist, "herd" nationalism and socialism.
Nietzsche's flawed source
Nietzsche's source for the law of Manu was the book Les législateurs religieux. Manou, Moïse, Mahomet (1876) by French writer Louis Jacolliot. According to Annemarie Etter, this translation of the Manusmriti is not reliable and differs widely from other sources. For example, the high respect it gives to women, which Nietzsche quotes in opposition to "Christian misogyny", is in fact not contained in any of the usual texts.
In his description and interpretation of the "Tschandala", Nietzsche may have followed a long footnote by Jacolliot, which gives an "unbelievable, abstruse and scientifically completely untenable" (Etter) theory. According to Jacolliot, all Semitic peoples, especially the Hebrews, are descendants of emigrated Tschandalas. Although Nietzsche never directly says this, it seems plausible that he believed in Jacolliot's theory at least to some extent, even though, as Etter points out, Nietzsche would have easily been able to falsify several of Jacolliot's pseudo-scientific claims. In so doing, he may have increased the impact of Jacolliot's "effusive admiration for ancient Eastern wisdom and civilization with a more or less open and pronounced antisemitism and antichristianism" (Etter).
Terms like "race", "breeding", "Aryan" and others Nietzsche used in his later works, polycontextually and subtly, were exploited very cleverly by Nazi ideologues who tried to paint him monolithically as precursor of their own ideology and invoked Nietzsche to rationalize their political program. The pitiless humiliation and, eventually, destruction of the weak was favored by the national socialism of Adolf Hitler. Nietzsche indeed expounded a rarefied version of eugenics--his eugenicist cast of mind is evident and insuppressible; but within eugenicist beliefs, there are serious varieties of thinking; and Nietzsche is worlds apart from the simplistic, brutalizing, Social Darwinist eugenics of mass-annihilation of Hitlerism.
Nietzsche's comparison between the Tschandalas and Judaism appeared to fit in with antisemitism: the Nazi intellectuals especially took advantage of his words in this area. Nietzsche spared no words for any nationality, and he made no exceptions for the Jewish people: but the meaning of his comparison was to criticize a limited subset of "world-weary", apocalypse-obsessed Jews espousing a philosophy of nihilizing, Gnosticizing "life-negation" carrying, in his eyes, noxious historical influence, within a discrete period of Jewish history. In reality, Nietzsche was philo-Semitic, lauded early, Davidic-era Judaism as role model of civilizational "virtu", and can only be designated "anti-Semitic" in the most peripheral sense. Nietzsche openly opposed a limited subcategory within Jewry of, so-called, "decadent", "proletarian-nihilist" Jews--the subset of early and modern Jews Nietzsche saw as fostering a "gangrenous" egalitarianism motivated by Gnostic-style world-hatred, where quality inevitably is axiologically flattened in neurasthenia of the mind, now infecting all modernity in its levelling impulse; Nietzsche viewed this spirit and the disseminators of this spirit, as actors of cultural sabotage: as a conservative revolutionary elitist polemicist, Nietzsche did not employ genteelism in engaging his conceptualized intellectual foes. Harsh terms Nietzsche used for particularized Jews, but demonizing and criminalizing Jewry as a globular mass, as Nazi ideology did, Nietzsche never committed. Again, the reality is Nietzsche was an unapologetic neo-Caesarist elitist of spiritual aristocratic order, and simultaneously philo-Semitic; and in all his works, in later days in "The Anti-Christ", Nietzsche celebrates and heaps abundant praise and acclaim upon the ancient Hebrews as exemplary ideal of his notion of a "life-affirmative" "higher race." Nietzsche is extremely demanding in his bestowal of commendation upon individuals and groups: he affirms the vanished "conquering" peoples of history as worthy of the most merit (ancient warlike Hebrews, Goths, Vikings, Japanese samurai, Arab adventurers, among others, are cited); assigns prominence to the ancient "Italiot"-Greeks (whose worth, in Nietzsche's eyes, he attributed to genetic hybrid vigor due to racial intermixture); the primordial Hebrew folk (including the members of this stock in modernity Nietzsche considered untouched by "decadence"); a handful of modern unpopular, "un-German" (his word) Germans (e.g., Goethe)--modern Germany Nietzsche despised ("The presence of a German retards my digestion"); modern Germany is collective cultural philistine "par excellence", redeemed only by a small set of vestigial bloodlines anciently tied to knighthood--these lineages Nietzsche wanted to have intermarried with select Jews, idealistically; and rare esteem is given to the Sicilian-Italian people--the lowliest Italian peasant, Nietzsche believed, inherited at least a small particle of the Classical Graeco-Roman spirit Nietzsche so admired, defined, in his mind, by the spirit of manly spiritual virility: "A poor Venetian gondolier is always a better figure than a Berlin Geheimrath, and in the end, indeed, a better man" (G.M., 98; B.G.E., 146, 208). The Italian Renaissance being the apogee of what Nietzsche comprehends by his all-consuming concern, virile "Kultur"--thus is outlined Nietzsche's views on peoples and nationalities. The aforementioned groups Nietzsche granted prefential status within his "racial" system of thought, if racism is the perceptual lens used to cognize his meditations: the arete-based "racism" of Nietzsche is deeply complex and totally different in spirit if compared alongside the pan-Germanic conceptual brutality and ethical savagery of Nazi racism.
Upon deep analysis, Nietzsche's "metapolitics" was only on the surface a forerunner of Nazi political philosophy. Nietzsche aggressively attacked the granitic basis of Nazism ("nationalized socialism") in equally rejecting both modern nationalism and modern socialism as decadent "herd-animalizing" movements. Nietzsche shared only the most superficial of ideological elements with volkist, communitarian, chauvinist Nazism. Nietzsche contrastingly envisaged a completely internationalistic or transnational, imperialist caste order of "spiritual aristocrats" rooted in meritocratic elitism: capacity of sublimation and self-refinement would determine social rank--blood irrelevant except as the possible vehicle of cultural energy. Nietzsche favorably included what he considered the "creative" intellectual energy and force of the Jews (one of the few, last "strong races" existent, in Nietzsche's view): thus, in the "plan" of his projected imperium, the Jews are necessary components, and total racial intergrowth is passionately desired and idealized. Nietzsche's positions could not be more opposed to Nazi dogmatic tenets: Nietzsche is a believer in the Jews as archetypal "superior race", whose potentiality and greatness, he seeks to respectfully direct for his own purposes; the modern-day Germans are practically, in general, all slobs without spirit and in need of Jewish blood to prevent intellectual-cultural senescence: the Nazi ideological core is reversed and inverted absolutely. The anti-nationalist imperialist "order" of his imaginings is where, in his words, superabundant Jewish strength could be channeled and incorporated (in the mind of Nietzsche) fittingly: Nietzschean "racial eugenics" was avowedly "spiritual" or "sublimated". If these lenses of perception are chosen, Nietzsche, while a racist eugenicist in a finely specialized sense, shares little with modern understandings of both eugenics and racism. One of his most predominant beliefs was the value of racial interblending leading to "hybrid vigor", in contrast wholly to Nazi doctrinal Germanic racist solipsism.
Nietzsche's philo-Semitic, racially-mixed empire of Caesarian soul-aristocrats, composed theoretically of the "cream of the crop" of each Western nationality (and Nietzsche explicitly designated Israel as part of the West in optimistic, positive terms: to repeat, Prussian officers with an ethos of chivalrous self-mastery and wealthy intellectual Jews--for Nietzsche, wealth was one indicator of "noble vigor"--Nietzsche vehemently proposed as ideal candidates for intermarriage and leadership of his imagined new "order"), this transnational class of "lords of the earth" and "artist-tyrants" of cultural creativity and mastery, Nietzsche set up to oppose what he believed was an "aristocidal" modernity, bogged down and hostile against all Renaissance-style "excellence" or virile "virtu" in its culturally-destructive primum mobile of ideology--linear, flattening handicapping egalitarianism--the "equality of zeros." The sophisticated, "neo-Ghibelline", "neo-Renaissance" metapolitical dream of Nietzsche and the vulgarian volkist populism of Hitler are intellectually implacably irreconcilable.
Though Nietzsche did use the term Übermensch, nowhere in his works did he use the contrary Untermensch that in the 20th Century became a notorious concept in the racist Nazi ideology: the dehumanizing deadly term used for races and individuals perceived as "inferior", like Jews, gypsies and homosexuals. Nietzsche did however view humankind in starkly hierarchical terms, and similar terms for inferiority Nietzsche did utilize in his notes--the contrast being hysterical, apocalyptic genocidal sensibility is only found in manichean Nazism. Nazism advocated sheer cruelty of Darwinism-inspired, morally nihilist unlimited piratical warfare as worldview and policy; while Nietzsche crucially affirmed, as conservative revolutionary or radical aristocratic, traditionary Noblesse oblige and generous, munificent treatment of supposed, theoretical "inferiors" as mandatory for the true nobleman. Magnanimous treatment of so-called inferiors, defined howsoever, is one point where Nietzsche is adamant: "society is a pyramid, and the broad base of mediocre spirits should not be despised or mistreated." Here Nietzsche reveals the irreconcilable moral difference between his ideas and the barbaric simplism of Nazi ideology.
Summarizing, to reiterate, differentiate and, most relevantly, exculpate Nietzsche from the ruffian piracy culminating in war-crime of those who commandeered his words for their own purposes, the elemental truth stands: Nietzsche was as strongly opposed to solipsist, ethically nihilist nationalist sentiment as imaginably possible, and explicitly despised mainstream German culture, modern "beer-souled" Germany being the example of "massified" inverse culture "par excellence." Nietzsche distinctively distanced himself from all pan-Germanic beliefs to the point of dissociating his ancestry from Germany completely, self-entitling himself combatively the product of "Slavic nobility", purposefully as a mental dagger against pan-Germanic populist ideological volkism and its contemporaneous exponents. The synthesis of volkist nationalism and socialism, two of Nietzsche's greatest adversaries in terms of intellectual political philosophy, these two thought-streams of communitarian populism eventually mutating into the witches brew of Nationalist Socialism developed by Adolf Hitler, Nietzsche wholeheartedly struggled against his entire life, to the point of personal strife and grief between himself and his sister and kin.
Synoptically: Nietzsche did indeed despise and desire elimination of modern liberal-humanist democracy as unsalvageable in its "decadence" and "degenerescence", and vehemently denounced the fallen ignoble humanity of modernity. The rank-order of the spirit, the spiritually-based caste system, Nietzsche idealized, was nonexistent, or upturned in modern life: the lowest in spirit ruled over the more psychologically and spiritually sensitive, in his view. Specific early proto-Christian Gnostic-apocalyptic Judeans and the early Judaeo-Christian movement inheriting the spirit of culturally deadening life-negation, Nietzsche attacked as metaphorically "Tschandala." "Tschandala" was one term among others Nietzsche used to attack the underpinnings of modern existence, and, in terms of genocidal anti-Semitism, has no meaning except tragic and accidental. Nietzsche offered a different, other world-system categorically alien to modern existence, one of cascading hierarchical Classical-type imperium structured and sociopolitically stratified according to personalized, meritocratic aretology, where rank-order corresponded to degree of individual "virtu" or "spirit." Nietzsche was a militant-minded agonist of thought of Counter-Enlightenment theory, whose fiery counter-modernism should not be minimized. Nietzsche was indeed an expositor and champion of rigorous international imperialism and sublimated aristocratic rule of autocratic colors, of a type unseen in the modern age, characterized by unmasked elitism of aristocracy of character ("virtu"), and dedicated centrally and wholly to cultural vitality, in which each social stratum would enjoy, not what Nietzsche saw as hypocritical, illegitimate equal rights, but possess its own unique "rights" and privileges. No softening of Nietzsche's stance of idiosyncratic "'high' Caesarism" and promoting caste rule should be mendaciously committed in scholastic perjury: Nietzsche wished to assault, conquer and replace the entirety of modern "degenerascent" life with his own Counter-Enlightenment system of order, simply unintelligible to modern people. In the end, for all his ultra-aggressive critique directed against mainline Judaeo-Christianity, his rhetoric of belligerency, and knife-like cutting analysis of almost every part of modern "rabblement-uglified" (his words) existence and its defenders, the dissident thinker and "individualist anarchist reactionary" of neo-Caesarist imperiality, meritocratic special rights, "aristocratic radicalism" and supremacist of High culture definitively cemented his special individuality of dissidence by proudly calling himself, as if ennobling, the ultimate "anti-antisemite".
Inspired by Nietzsche, August Strindberg wrote a novel called "Tschandala" in 1889.
- "Die ‚Verbesserer‘ der Menschheit" (KSA 6, p. 98–102)
- chapter 56 and 57 (KSA 6, p. 239–244)
- Götzen-Dämmerung, Die "Verbesserer" der Menschheit
- Annemarie Etter: Nietzsche und das Gesetzbuch des Manu in: Nietzsche-Studien 16 (1987), p. 340–352
- Rüdiger Safranski Nietzsche - Biographie seines Denkens (2000) München : Hanser; Eng.Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, translated by Shelley Frisch. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002, ISBN 0-393-05008-4