Allan Megill, a historian with whom I almost studied, rightly called Friedrich Nietzsche a “prophet of extremity.” Within the torrent of over-the-top aphorisms that is Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche included a stunning denunciation of excessive state power:
“The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”
(Staat heist das kaelteste aller kalten Ungeheuer. Kalt luegt es auch; und diese Luege kriecht aus seinem Munde: “Ich, her Staat, bin das Volk.”)
Nietzsche wrote these words over a century before the Berlin Wall came down. For forty years, the wall had symbolized the Cold War — then, on November 9, 1989, it was breached for good, with a sudden abruptness that had scarcely seemed possible. Twenty years have now passed since that momentous night.
One could easily cast the Stassi, the East German secret police, as the type of cold monsters whom Nietzsche so abhorred. Yet as the acclaimed film “The Lives of Others” suggested, even within the Stassi, weren't there human beings struggling to hold on to their humanity?