Who—or what—is a “good European?” When Friedrich Nietzsche spoke of the “guten Europäer,” he wasn’t exactly forecasting a pan-European federation as a part of Germany’s future. His words, however, have inspired relentless interpretation by scholars, political leaders, and critics—all determined to understand what exactly he meant and how it can be applied to Europe today.
According to philosopher Gary Shapiro, “Nietzsche argues that geography takes precedence over history in contextualizing human action and puts in perspective the Eurocentrism of globalization theory.” To break down Nietzsche and his concept of “fatherlands” is to recognize that his philosophies were shaped by his perception of territorial sovereignty; his thinking was influenced by the question of German nationalism, making his theories largely rhetorical and in some ways, unpredictable.
Drawing on the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Shapiro explains that Nietzsche’s “inquiries into the national characters of English, French, and German philosophy and his analysis of how the Greek milieu provided a ground in which philosophy could flourish” comprise a geophilosophy that “involves a process of territorialization, deterritorialization, and reterritorialization.” All living things
territorialize by staking out a space, a place…whether in the areas traced by the Australian aborigines in song lines or in the homeless person’s little stretch of sidewalk… Deterritorialization consists in an idealizing movement by which actual physical space becomes subsumed within some structure requiring a more conceptual definition…a certain assemblage of people, land, and resources consists in a unified structure. Think of reterritorialization as a “back to the land” movement, the reclaiming of a territory that had previously been absorbed by a deterritorialized entity.
While Deleuze and Guattari “do not limit the use of these notions to their most literal applications to earth and the land, this is surely one of their primary senses,” writes Shapiro.
Shapiro suggests that one result of Nietzche’s geophilosophy was the revelation of potential political weaponizations—he offered a forewarning of a growing German and European nationalism. When Nietzsche was writing Beyond Good and Evil, he was sharply critical of a then-accelerating nationalist ideology—not necessarily for its problematic sentiment, but because of its threat to autonomy. With individuality a canonically crucial part of his ethos, he was skeptical of a growing pan-European monoculturalism.
In geographizing philosophy, Nietzsche constructed frameworks to be borrowed by scholars for understanding statehood, sovereignty, and ideology in the post-war era—relevant paradigms for contemporary international relations. While he criticized Eduard von Hartmann’s philosophy, which, “with its combination of Hegelian development and Schopenhauerian pessimism was as close as the nineteenth century got to producing a theory of the end of history and of the last man,” said philosophy nonetheless contributed to neoliberalist oeuvres that fuel scholarly analyses today. The theory of the end of history, for one, is largely rooted in such ideas—leading Shapiro to refer to Hartmann as “Nietzsche’s Alexander Kojève and Francis Fukuyama rolled into one.”
Perhaps Nietzsche did see a pan-European federation as an inevitability or a desire when he said “dass Europa Eins werden will” (Europe wishes to be one). His words could have been interpreted in many different ways, however. If he was referring to a trajectory toward a European federation, his tone suggests that could be anything from an idiotic tragedy, to a cultural fallacy, to the correct move. Some argue he was assuming universality, though they’re often debunked via his aforementioned citations: Nietzsche was well-aware of a difference between Europe and other states on the world stage. Others might apply Nietzsche to other aspects of Western politics, borrowing from his other philosophies to create a general theory of European integration. Whether Nietzsche would or would not have appreciated aspects of the EU is a Barthesian literary argument that will likely never end. However, what it can provide is insight into early-stage nationalism and an analysis thereof.