The historical sense

After Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie, Nietzsche never again mentions the triad of historical types - critical, antiquarian, monumental - and almost never again says anything positive about this book.[1] This of itself does not mean he rejected its core thesis, namely, that underneath the surface of historical world views and even particular historical judgments lay a complex dynamic of psychological factors, rendering the possibility of a subjectless interpretation of the past impossible.[2] When he does characterize the positive achievement of Nutzen und Nachteil in his brief introduction to it in Ecce homo, he highlights his recognition that the “‘historical sense’ of which this century is so proud [was] recognized for the first time as a sickness, as a typical sign of decay.”[3]

The phrase ‘historical sense’ has an ambiguous meaning in Nietzsche’s writing. Not only does Nietzsche define it in different ways at different times, even his attitude toward the general notion vacillates between laudation and vitriol. In Nutzen und Nachteil and its surrounding notebook entries, Nietzsche’s use is almost exclusively negative, and, when used in quotation marks, is often interchangeable with ‘historical sickness.’[4] After Die frohliche Wissenschaft (1882), Nietzsche tends to use the phrase more affirmatively,[5] as we shall see in our sixth chapter.

But here in the early 1870s, Nietzsche composed six pieces that deal predominantly with the overabundance of ‘historical sense’ in his contemporary Germany: the course of lectures entitled Encyclopedia of Classical Philology and Introduction to the Study of the Same (delivered 1871-1875), the public lecture called On the Future of our Educational Institutions (delivered 1872), the first three parts of the uncompleted series Untimely Meditations - David Friedrich Strauss, the Confessor and Author (1873), On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life (1874), Schopenhauer as Educator (1874) - and a set of notes that were to have been the fifth contribution to that project, Wir Philologen (1874-1875). One would not exaggerate by saying that the theme of historical sense was more prevalent in Nietzsche’s mind during the early 1870s than even that of tragedy. The common thread is essentially this: although the study of philology and history is both a necessary part of culture and an instrument for shaping students in the rigorous methods of intellectual investigation, it has been abused by its professional teachers and writers to the point where it stifles rather than strengthens, enervating instead of invigorating the artistic spirit of its young disciples. In his affirmative characterization of its potentiality, Nietzsche follows Ritschl and is consistent with his Basel colleagues Bachofen and Burckhardt. In his critical mode, which concerns us mainly here, he holds that contemporary education and culture have suffered from two distinct deleterious effects of the age’s improper ‘historical sense’: scientism and teleology.

The first concerns the progressively democratic and naively utilitarian pedagogical methods of, above all, the ‘scientific’ philosophers of history.[6] As John Stuart Mill, one of its founders, states it, “It is my belief, indeed, that the general tendency is, and will continue to be, saving occasional and temporary exceptions, one of improvement; a tendency toward a better and happier state.”[7] Nietzsche is no fan of his contemporary public education, whose mantra he mocks: “As much knowledge and education as possible [Moglichst viel Erkenntnifi und Bildung]; therefore the greatest possible supply and demand - hence as much happiness as possible: - that is the formula. In this case utility is made the object and goal of education, - utility in the sense of gain - the greatest possible pecuniary gain.”[8] That everyone, even those not suited by nature to carry out the long, difficult work of a genuine education for the sake of higher culture, are compelled to spend their youths in the state-sponsored schools only inculcates a hatred for real education. “The ‘greatest possible expansion of education’ so enfeebles education that it can no longer confer privileges or inspire respect.”[9] Not only that, expanding education to all and sundry involved watering down the methodological rigor once demanded of the intellectually gifted. When it comes specifically to the teaching of history, which the state is only too glad to support since it keeps both the young and the learned away from the more politically confrontational matters of the present, a simplistic concentration on linguistics and ‘proofs’ through evidence have come to replace the holistic command of a field and the penetrating insights that were once found among the great philologists and historians of past generations.[10]

In place of a basely scientistic insistence on objectivity and demonstrable ‘facts,’ Nietzsche seeks a healthy and robust psychological fundament capable of assessing the past from a noble perspective.[11] In his lectures on Die Geschichte der grieschischen Literatur (delivered in different parts between 1874-1876), Nietzsche discusses at length the character of most of the prominent Greek historians: Hekataeus, Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Ktesias of Knidos, Theopompos of Chios, Ephoros of Kyme, Hegesias of Magnesia, Kallisthenes of Olinth, etc., and later historians like Strabo, Polybius, Dionysius ofHalikarnassos, and Plutarch. Nietzsche praises the older Greek historians for having just the kind of healthy psychological character in contrast to dry scholarship. “One errs especially if one thinks that a dry, scholarly, chronologically arranged presentation marks the oldest historians. [Hekataeus] didn’t grow up in the library carrels; he understood the need to listen, to see, to question the most widely traveled people, and his entire life he practiced the art of narrating and listening to narration. That is really готорга.”[12] On the other hand, Nietzsche supposes that what we today consider scholarship was something absent entirely in Greece.[13] Only during the Roman Empire, he notes, did scholarly record-keeping emerge. And hardly to satisfy any drive for objectivity, archives and ‘factual’ proofs regarding past states of affairs were developed with the intention of protecting property rights and enforcing contractual obligations. Scholarly history was no pure science; quite the contrary, “[i]t was the pure birth of power and ruling-thinking [Herrschaftsgedankens].”[14]°

Nietzsche’s Encyclopadie der klassischen Philologie briefly summarizes the major developments of trans-European philology.[15] In its more interesting later chapters, it functions as a sort of handbook for becoming a genuine, healthy philologist. “Wie wird der Philolog?” Education is not purely a matter of technical training, not the drilling of a banal, antisubjective, methodological Rankeanism that pervaded the schools. The genuine task of education is to form scholars according to the template of Wolf and the Greek historians like Thucydides, who “sees something great into and within all things and persons. [...] Thus, in him, ‘the thinker of men,' that culture of the most unprejudiced knowledge of the world [jene Cultur der unbefangensten Weltkenntniss] comes to a final, effulgent efflorescence.”[16] And to produce historiography of a value that rivals Thucydides', more rigorous drills in grammar will not suffice.

Instead, “ Wir mUssen den Trieb, die Sehnsucht erregen [we must excite the drives, the longing].”[17] This is essential, Nietzsche thinks, since “[e]very vocation must correspond to a need, every need corresponds to a drive. For philologists, possibly, 1. Pedagogical tendency, 2. Joy in antiquity, 3. Desire for pure knowledge.”[18] “More than anything, it’s about good methods and a correct orientation.”[19] The tool for awakening these noble drives, for honing such a ‘correct orientation,’ is, as Ritschl had once instructed, a long discipline in rigorous methods and a view toward implementing those methods in the service of culture rather than as ends in themselves. One must take those youths by nature gifted with curiosity, great intelligence, and insight into the hidden connections within traditions, and mold them in the forge of a disciplined method.[20] “We’ve mentioned how important the right method is from the beginning. University years should be spent bringing the student to a good and certain comfortability with them. One should practice on them day by day, like a medical student practices on his cadaver.”[21] Even when attending lectures, the content is of lesser importance than an observation of the professor’s activity, her process of thinking through problems, of analyzing sources and accepted traditions critically. “The main value of a lecture remains always the methodological lesson.”[22] [23]

However much Nietzsche considered rigorous discipline in careful philological methods an essential foreground to the formation of a healthy- minded historian (and despite how frustratingly vague his descriptions of them actually are), he believes that one of the most inimical tendencies in modern education is its treating them as ends-in-themselves, as the goal of education and by extension of culture. By contrast, “I demand that even the scholarly drive [wissenscaftl. (sic) Trieb] be ruled by that classical tendency” - by which Nietzsche means that correctly ordered psychological dynamic - “so that the scholarly drives are [considered] the means, not the goal itself, much less the only goal.”59 In contrast to the intrepid interpreters of the world, Nietzsche highlights the shortcomings of his contemporary workaday historians. With no sense for culture or the cultural importance of their field, the only goal of these ‘scientific’ historians and philologists is to ‘get the text right’ - not to learn anything from it for the sake of their lives, but simply for the satisfaction of holding another ‘fact’ in their pocket.

Others, again, pass their lives in counting the number of verses written by Greek and Roman poets, and are delighted with the proportions 7:13 = 14:26. Finally, one of them brings forward his solution to a question, such as the Homeric poems considered from the standpoint of prepositions, and thinks he has drawn the truth from the bottom of the well with ava and ката. All of them, however, with the most widely separated aims in view, dig and burrow in Greek soil with a restlessness and a blundering awkwardness that must surely be painful to a true friend of antiquity.[24]

Nietzsche is not exaggerating here. He who is said to consider the Homeric poems from the perspective of its prepositions is none other than Gottfried Hermann, who wrote on the Homeric hymns in 1806, whose dissertation was on the word a&roC, and who wrote four entire volumes on the particle av. How Hermann measures up in Nietzsche’s ideal of historiography is evident. “What does the teaching of Greek particles have to do with the meaning of life?”[25] As for the type that takes joy in discovering the hidden proportions of Greek and Roman verses, it was Karl Lachmann who counted among his greatest achievements the discovery that the total number of lines assigned to chorus and actors in tragedy was invariably divisible by seven.[26] Nietzsche labels them “pedantic micrologists.”[27] Notice, however, that he does not quibble with any particular philological ‘fact’ here - he never disputes the numerical reductions or the applicability of ката. It is more typically the spirit, drives, or intentions of these positivistic philologists that suffer his rancor: it comes down to their discipline’s efficacy within educational institutions to shape the future of culture and society, to their discipline’s value for life, the quality of its ‘historical sense.’

Nietzsche says in the never-completed notes to his once-planned fifth Untimely Meditation, titled Wir Philologen, “Those who say, ‘But certainly classical culture survives as an object of pure scholarship, even if all its educational aims are disavowed,’ deserve this reply: ‘Where is pure scholarship here? Achievements and qualities have to be assessed, and the assessor has to stand above what he assesses. So your first concern must be to surpass antiquity. Until you do that, your scholarship isn’t pure, but impure and limited.’”[28] Every type of scholarship must recognize its pedagogical dimension; what distinguishes them rests on a certain quality of character. These critical philologists tend to lack that grand and majestic taste required of the true philologist to create new, similarly grand idols to overcome, and are, Nietzsche thinks, thereby unable to assess the greatness of the Greek culture. Their destruction of the old antiquated worldviews by means of source criticism and meticulous textual analysis is an advantage for life; their Nachteil is their “wanton analytic drive” to reduce all philology to this destructive task.

“It’s a sad history,” Nietzsche laments in the notes to Wir Philologen. “I don’t think any science is so poor in talented practitioners. It’s the foundering of spirit, in which they make a hobby out of hair-splitting ['Wortklauberei].”[29] “Classical philology is the herd [Herd] of the most superficial enlightenment: always used dishonestly, having gradually become entirely ineffective.”[30] “[T]here should be an ethics police [Polizei der Sitte] for it - like there should be for bad pianists who play Beethoven.”[31] Nietzsche’s vitriol in this work was particularly unbridled. More than just a childish rant against his professional colleagues, here speaks a voice full of anguish, too, at the fact that his once noble field was decaying from the inside. This was not merely a temporary absence of genuine minds leading to a few years of substandard work. The ill-advised teaching methods practiced upon those already ill-suited minds left an indelible stain upon the psychology of the contemporary philologist, one sure to spread until the field eventually languished. The drives and instincts of the great majority of contemporary philologists were now incorrectly aligned such that they no longer were led to select and represent the ‘right’ aspects of antiquity. “At what a distance must one be from the Greeks to ascribe to them such a stupidly narrow autochthony as does [Karl] Otfried Muller [sic]! How Christian it is to assume, with Welcker, that the Greeks were originally monotheistic!”68 “Bergk’s history of literature: Not the merest spark of Greek fire or Greek sense.”69 The problem is not a lack of technical ability, nor certainly any lack of materials to study, but a psychological incongruity between the necessary fundament of the true historian of antiquity and that manifest in the typical ‘scientistic’ philologist today.[32] Because of it: “99 philologists out of 100 shouldn’t be one.”[33]

  • [1] For Nietzsche’s attitude toward this work, see Brobjer (2004), 301—322. A later reformulation canfound at FW337; KSA 3, 564^
  • [2] Brobjer, I think, goes too far in his assessment that Nietzsche abandoned the work entirely. Most ofthe evidence he marshals is circumstantial or else concerns the Untimely Meditations and Birth ofTragedy generally. For examples, that Nietzsche calls the Untimely Meditations his ‘Juvenilia’ in aletter to Georg Brandes of February 19, 1888 (Ibid., 309); that he was glad the back-cover of his 1888The Case of Wagner omits the UntimelyMeditations from its list of the author’s works (Ibid., 310); thatin 1885 he opted not to buy back the extra copies of the Untimely Meditations from his originalpublisher Schmeitzner (Ibid., 309); or that Nietzsche would try to dissuadeanAmerican admirer fromreading his early work in 1882 (Ibid., 307) — All of this goes to show that Nietzsche was ratherembarrassed by The Birth ofTragedy and by the UntimelyMeditations project generally, a project thatwas, of course, an unmitigated failure from a publishing standpoint. But it does not indicate whichparticular theses Nietzsche rejected from these works. That David Friedrich Strauss was a philistine,the meaning of genuine education, that teleological history is a sign of cultural decline, and that hiscontemporaries suffer from an overly scientistic attitude toward culture —none of these theses do I seeNietzsche anywhere reject.
  • [3] EH “Untimely Meditations,” 1; KSA 6, 316.
  • [4] See Brobjer (2004), 316-319; Sommer (1997), Chapters 1 and 2.
  • [5] Nietzsche criticizes the anglophone historians J. W. Draper and W. E. H. Lecky, for example, fortheir lack of historical sense at Nietzsche to Overbeck, March 24,1887; KSB 8, 49. For an exception, see FW337; KSA 3, 564.
  • [6] See, for a general statement of Nietzsche’s objection to “Geschichte als reine Wissenschaft,” HL 1;KSA 1, 257.A recent collection on Nietzsche’s philosophy of science will hopefully continue to changethe common opinion that Nietzsche was a straightforward antagonist of his contemporary science.See Heit et al. (2012), in which two essays are specifically related to scientific historiography: Jensen(2012b) and Schuringa (2012).
  • [7] Mill ([1843] 1874), 632ff. On Nietzsche’s critique of ‘progressive’ historiography, see Sommer (2006),421-435. Sommer’s supposition that Eternal Recurrence may have been developed in part as acounter-image to teleological historiography is suggestive; however, Nietzsche had critiques of teleology in place well before his first articulation of that notion.
  • [8] ZuB I; KSA 1, 667. 3 ZuB I; KSA 1, 668.
  • [9] 46 Cf. M195; KSA 3, 168-70. See also NFsummer-fall 1873, 29[138]; KSA 7, 692.
  • [10] 47 Babette Babich has done estimable work in relating Nietzsche’s ideals of historiography to hisreenvisioned ideal of science. See especially her (2009), 155-201. She has also been generous enoughto share a paper with me that continues some of the same themes with reference to philology:“Nietzsche und dieAntike Wissenschaften: ‘. . .alle wissenschaftlichen Methoden waren bereits da,’”
  • [11] which I intend to include in a forthcoming volume I am co-editing with Helmut Heit.
  • [12] KGW11/5, 229ft.
  • [13] Here Nietzsche seems to have changed his mind since claiming in GTthat, “the Greeks themselveswere already well down the road towards restamping their whole mythical, dream of youth [.. .] into ahistorical-pragmatic history of youth.” GT 10; KSA 1, 74. The division in both places is between thestorytellers with a sense for the deep truths of mythic history and professional fact-hoardinghistorians, though I am unclear as to why Nietzsche came to think that the transition took place ata later time. It is suggestive that B. G. Niebuhr’s Romische Geschichte (1827—1828) may have beeninfluential, as it then stood as the locus classicus of the historiographical theory of myth.
  • [14] KGW 11/5, 258f, n. 70.
  • [15] For Nietzsche’s reliance on Burckhardt for his Encyclopedia, see Campioni (1999), 359—369.
  • [16] M168; KSA 3, 151. For an argument that Thucydides is a kind of ideal historian for Nietzsche, seeLustila and Mann (2011), 51—72. While they are certainly correct that Nietzsche often praisesThucydides, especially in comparison to static-metaphysicians like Plato, I think they draw twoincorrect inferences. First, that Nietzsche remained throughout his career a typological realist in themanner of Thucydides; and second, that Thucydides’ typology involved any epistemological commitment (which Nietzsche's does) beyond the level of historical generalizations.
  • [17] KGW11/3, 368. 2 Ibid., 366. 3 Ibid., 369.
  • [18] 56 Cf. NF1875, 7 [7]; KSA 8, 126: “those who early in life show signs of talent and a sense for what is
  • [19] noble.”
  • [20] 57 KGW 11/3, 388.
  • [21] 58 Ibid. See also KGW 11/3, 382: “Methodologically, textual criticism has the highest worth for the
  • [22] aspiring philologist.” See MaM 1, 270; See also the sections A 13, 26, 47, 52, and 59.
  • [23] KGW 11/3, 392.
  • [24] ZuB in; KSA 1, 702. 61 NFMarch 1875, 3 [63]; KSA 8, 32.
  • [25] 62 Nietzsche certainly knew this, commenting, “So profoundly and frequently oppressive is theuncertainty in prediction that it now and then becomes a morbid passion for believing at any price
  • [26] and a desire to be certain: e.g., as concerns Aristotle, or in discovering numerical necessities — almost adisease in Lachmann.” NF beginning of 1875—spring 1876, 3 [36]; KSA 8, 24.
  • [27] HL 2; KSA 1, 258.
  • [28] NF beginning of 1875—spring 1876, 5 [53]; KSA 8, 54ft.
  • [29] NF 1875, 7 [4]; KSA 8, 122. See also NF spring—summer 1875, 5[i09]; KSA 8, 69.
  • [30] NF spring—summer 1875, 5[i24]; KSA 8, 73. 4 NF March 1875, 3 [74]; KSA 8, 35.
  • [31] 68 NF spring—summer 1875, 5 [114]; KSA 8, 70. 69 NF March 1875, 3U9]; KSA 8, 23.
  • [32] See the rather comical chart of characteristics at NF spring—summer 1875, 5 [59]; KSA 8, 57.
  • [33] NF March 1875, 3 [20]; KSA 8, 20. This should not give the impression that Nietzsche resisted teachinghistory and historiographical methods to students. On the contrary, a bit later in those same notes hewould write, “alle hohere Erziehung muss eine historische sein [all higher education must be historical].”NF 1875, 7[6]; KSA 8, 125. The distinction to be drawn is that where, ideally, the gifted would betaught by gifted practitioners of the historical arts, all too often commonplace minds have beencorrupted by commonplace teaching.
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