“Dionysian enlightenment”: Walter Kaufmann's Nietzsche in historical perspective

Modern Intellectual History 3 (2):239-269 (2006)

Walter Kaufmann's monumental study of Friedrich Nietzsche's philosophy, Nietzsche:Philosopher,Psychologist,Antichrist (1950) dramatically transformed Nietzsche interpretations in the postwar United States and rendered Kaufmann himself a dominant figure in transatlantic Nietzsche studies from 1950 until his death in 1980. While the longevity of Kaufmann's hegemony over postwar American Nietzsche interpretations in particular is remarkable, even more so is the fact that he revitalized the career of such a radical thinker in the conservative intellectual climate of the 1950s. Philosophers and historians typically credit Kaufmann with rescuing Nietzsche from the Nazis, but argue that he did so by denaturing Nietzsche's philosophy of power and narrowly transforming him into an existentialist. By contrast, this essay argues that Kaufmann took a much more dramatic step by extending the scope of Nietzsche's philosophy, demonstrating how his ideas resonated with but also transcended the dominant philosophies of the day. Kaufmann presented Nietzsche as a philosopher uniquely poised to bridge the increasing mid-century rift between continental and analytic philosophies, as well as between the increasingly distinct moral worlds of academic philosophers and general readers. At a time when philosophical discourses within the university and beyond were pulling apart, Kaufmann put Nietzsche to work to bring them back together. By emphasizing Nietzsche's harmony with the range of scholarly and popular philosophical concerns of mid-century, he also established, for the first time in the United States, Nietzsche's role as a canonical thinker in the Western tradition
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DOI 10.1017/s1479244306000734
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