Friedrich Nietzsche's influence and reception varied widely and may be roughly divided into various chronological periods. Reactions were anything but uniform, and proponents of various ideologies attempted to appropriate his work quite early. By 1937, this led Georges Bataille to argue against any "instrumentalization" of Nietzsche's thought, paradoxically as a social-anarchist himself; Bataille the passionate, determined socialist anti-Fascist felt that any simple-minded interpretation or unified ideological characterization of Nietzsche's work granting predominance to any particular aspect failed to do justice to the body of his work as a whole.
Beginning while Nietzsche was still alive, though incapacitated by mental illness, many Germans discovered his appeals for greater heroic individualism and personality development in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but responded to those appeals in diverging ways. He had some following among left-wing Germans in the 1890s; in 1894–95, mainly a group of Protestant Christian German conservatives wanted to ban his work as subversive. During the late 19th century, in dark irony, Nietzsche's "aristocratic radical" ideas were commonly associated with the various anarchist movements (Nietzsche famously declared anarchism a form of "MIS-archism", or hatred for life and power itself); Nietzschean intellectual influence did allow anarchist theory to overthrow all Marxist thralldom, paving the way for what is now called post-leftism or even Third Positionism. Nietzsche's anarchistic influence was particularly strong in France and the United States. Nietzsche, as a staunch philo-Semite ("Nietzschean eugenics" entailed mixing the Prussian military officer class with the most intellectual Jews) and as a violently anti-populist opponent of pan-German volkism, indeed had a distinct appeal for many Zionist thinkers around the start of the 20th century. Theodore Herzl incorporated Nietzschean ideas of honor, personal authenticity, and statecraft into his Zionist philosophy. Nietzsche and Herzl both opposed the Christian God as the degeneration of the primordial, Dionysian Deity of Yahweh, the tribal God of Israel instead of the passive sufferer of cosmopolitan Christianity. It has been argued, not without reason, Nietzsche's work greatly influenced Theodore Herzl, and Martin Buber went so far as to extol Nietzsche as a "creator" and "emissary of life".
By World War I, however, he had acquired a reputation as an inspiration for right-wing German militarism. The reality was Nietzsche was an opponent of volkist pan-Germanism and advocated a nobiliary, trans-national pan-Europeanism incorporating the cultural-spiritual elite from all Western nations—including Judea or Israel. But in the pan-Germanic atmosphere, few understand Nietzsche except in his aphorisms of generality encouraging to any individual: German soldiers even received copies of Thus Spoke Zarathustra as gifts during World War I. The Dreyfus Affair provides another example of his reception: the French anti-semitic Right labelled the Jewish and Leftist intellectuals who defended Alfred Dreyfus as "Nietzscheans".Schrift, A.D. (1995). Nietzsche's French Legacy: A Genealogy of Poststructuralism. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-91147-8.
Such seemingly paradoxical acceptance by diametrically opposed camps is typical of the history of the reception of Nietzsche's thought. In the context of the rise of French fascism, one researcher notes, "Although, as much recent work has stressed, Nietzsche had an important impact on "leftist" French ideology and theory, this should not obscure the fact that his work was also crucial to the right and to the neither right nor left fusions of developing French fascism.
Indeed, as Ernst Nolte proposed, Maurrassian ideology of "aristocratic revolt against egalitarian-utopian 'transcendence'" (transcendence being Nolte's term for the ontological absence of theodic center justifying modern "emancipation culture"), the interrelation between Nietzschean ideology and proto-fascism offer extensive space for criticism and the Nietzschean ambiance pervading French ideological fermentation of extremism in time birthing formal Fascism, is unavoidable.
Many political leaders of the twentieth century were at least superficially familiar with Nietzsche's ideas. However, it is not always possible to determine whether or not they actually read his work. Regarding Hitler, for example, there is a debate. Some authors claim that he probably never read Nietzsche, or that if he did, his reading was not extensive. Nevertheless, others point to a Hitler's speech in Hitler's Table Talk, where the dictator mentioned Nietzsche when he spoke about what he called "great men", as an indication that Hitler may have been familiarized with Nietzsche's work. Other authors like Melendez (2001) point out to the parallelism between Hitler's and Nietzsche's titanic anti-egalitarianism, and the idea of the "übermensch", a term which was frequently used by Hitler and Mussolini to refer to the so-called "Aryan race", or rather, its projected future after Fascist engineering.
Alfred Rosenberg, an influential Nazi ideologist, also delivered a speech in which he related National Socialism to Nietzsche's ideology. Broadly speaking, the Nazis made very selective use of Nietzsche's philosophy, and eventually, this association caused Nietzsche's reputation to suffer following World War II. On the other hand, it is known that Mussolini was intellectually vibrant and a true reader of books and theories; Mussolini early on heard lectures about Nietzsche, Vilfred Pareto, and others in ideologically forming Fascism. His Jewish girlfriend Margherita Sarfatti () relates that Nietzsche virtually was the transforming factor in Mussolini's "conversion" from hard Socialism to spiritualistic, ascetic Fascism,Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini's Italy, University of California Press, 2000, p44: "In 1908 he presented his conception of the superman's role in modern society in a writing on Nietzsche entitled, "The Philosophy of Force."
Other national leaders did not escape Nietzsche's allure. Philip Morgan, Fascism in Europe, 1919-1945, Routledge, 2003, p. 21: "We know that Mussolini had read Nietzsche"
as did Charles de Gaulle. It has been suggested that Theodore Roosevelt read Nietzsche and was profoundly influenced by him, and in more recent years, Richard Nixon read Nietzsche with "curious interest".
According to philosopher Rene Girard, Nietzsche's greatest political legacy lies in his 20th century interpreters, among them Georges Bataille, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze (and Félix Guattari), and Jacques Derrida... Foucault's later writings, for example, revise Nietzsche's genealogical method to develop anti-foundationalist theories of power that divide and fragment rather than unite polities (as evinced in the liberal tradition of political theory). Deleuze, arguably the foremost of Nietzsche's Leftist interpreters, used the much-maligned "will to power" thesis in tandem with Marxian notions of commodity surplus and Freudian ideas of desire to articulate concepts such as the rhizome and other "outsides" to state power as traditionally conceived.