Nietzsche's Rejection of Wagner

Aesthetics, Ethics, and Politics


  • William F. Byrne



Nietzsche's late anti-Wagner tracts receive little attention from political scientists, yet they offer important insights into Nietzsche's philosophical thought and into the relationship of art to political behavior. For Nietzsche, both the romantic and the 'Christian' elements of Wagner's operas embody the 'slave morality' that is characteristic of modernity. 'Decadent' art like Wagner's tends to deaden the listener to the moral demands of real life, and instead promotes a longing for a transfigured exterior world. This can be manifested politically in the form of ideological movements that aim to destroy the old order and erect a new utopian order in its place. In these writings Nietzsche positions himself against expansive romanticism and nihilism, and emerges as a surprisingly strong classicist, albeit an unconventional one.