Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science.  Die fröhliche Wissenschaft.

First published in 1882.

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Previous Section   357. On the old Problem: “What is German?”   Next Section

On the old Problem: "What is German?

” – Recapitulate in your mind the real achievements of philosophical thought for which we have to thank German intellects: are they in any allowable sense to be counted also to the credit of the whole race?  Can we say that they are at the same time the work of "the German soul” or at least a symptom of it, in the sense in which we are accustomed to think for example, of Plato’s ideomania, his almost religious madness for form as an event and evidence of "the Greek soul"?  Or would the reverse perhaps be true?  Were they individually just as much exceptions to the spirit of the race as was for example, Goethe’s Paganism with a good conscience?  Or as Bismarck’s Macchiavelism was with a good conscience, his so-called "Realpolitik" in Germany?  Might our philosophers actually contradict the need of "the German soul”?  In short were the German philosophers really philosophical Germans?  I recall three cases.  First, Leibnitz’s incomparable insight that has been vindicated not only against Descartes but over all who had philosophised up to his time - that consciousness is only an accident of experience; that consequently what we call consciousness only constitutes a state of our spiritual and psychical world (perhaps a morbid state and not by any means the whole of it.  The profundity of this thought has not been exhausted to this day.  Is there reason to think that a person of the Latin race would not readily have stumbled on this reversal of the apparent?  For it is a reversal.  Let us call to mind secondly, the immense note of interrogation which Kant wrote after the notion of causality.  Not that he at all doubted its legitimacy, like Hume: on the contrary, he began cautiously to define the domain within which this notion has significance generally (we have not even yet got finished with the marking out of these limits).  Let us take thirdly, the astonishing hit of Hegel, who stuck at no logical usage or fastidiousness when he ventured to teach that the conceptions of kinds develop out of one another: with which theory the thinkers in Europe were prepared for the last great scientific movement, for Darwinism for without Hegel there would have been no Darwin.  Is there anything German in this Hegelian innovation which first introduced the decisive conception of evolution into science?  Yes, without doubt we feel that there is something of ourselves "discovered" and divined in all three cases; we are thankful for it, and at the same time surprised; each of these three principles is a thoughtful piece of German self-confession, self-understanding, and self-knowledge.  We feel with Leibnitz that "our inner world is far richer, ampler, and more concealed"; as Germans we are doubtful, like Kant, about the ultimate validity of scientific knowledge of nature, and in general about whatever can be known causaliter: the knowable as such now appears to us of less worth.  We Germans should still have been Hegelians, even though there had never been a Hegel, inasmuch as we (in contradistinction to all Latin peoples) instinctively attribute to becoming, to evolution, a profounder significance and higher value than to that which "is" we hardly believe at all in the validity of the concept "being”.  This is all the more the case because we are not inclined to concede to our human logic that it is logic in itself, that it is the only kind of logic (we should rather like, on the contrary, to convince ourselves that it is only a special case, and perhaps one of the strangest and most stupid).  A fourth question would be whether also Schopenhauer with his Pessimism, that is to say, the problem of the worth of existence, had to be a German.  I think not.  The event after which this problem was to be expected with certainty, so that an astronomer of the soul could have calculated the day and the hour for it namely, the decay of the belief in the Christian God, the victory of scientific atheism, is a universal European event, in which all races are to have their share of service and honour.  On the contrary, it has to be ascribed precisely to the Germans those with whom Schopenhauer was contemporary, that they delayed this victory of atheism longest, and endangered it most.  Hegel especially was its retarder par excellence, in virtue of the grandiose attempt which he made to persuade us at the very last of the divinity of existence, with the help of our sixth sense, "the historical sense”.  As philosopher, Schopenhauer was the first avowed and inflexible atheist we Germans have had: his hostility to Hegel had here its motive.  The non-divinity of existence was regarded by him as something understood, palpable, indisputable; he always lost his philosophical composure and got into a passion when he saw anyone hesitate and beat about the bush here.  It is at this point that his thorough uprightness of character comes in: unconditional, honest atheism is precisely the preliminary condition for his raising the problem, as a final and hard won victory of the European conscience, as the most prolific act of two thousand years discipline to truth, which in the end no longer tolerates the lie of the belief in a God.  One sees what has really gained the victory over the Christian God, Christian morality itself, the conception of veracity, taken ever more strictly, the confessional subtlety of the Christian conscience, translated and sublimated to the scientific conscience, to intellectual purity at any price.  To look upon nature as if it were a proof of the goodness and care of a God; to interpret history in honour of a divine reason, as a constant testimony to a moral order in the world and a moral final purpose; to explain personal experiences as pious men have long enough explained them, as if everything were a dispensation or intimation of Providence, something planned and sent on behalf of the salvation of the soul: all that is now past, it has conscience against it, it is regarded by all the more acute consciences as disreputable and dishonourable, as mendaciousness, femininism, weakness, and cowardice, by virtue of this severity, if by anything, we are good Europeans, the heirs of Europe’s longest and bravest self-conquest.  When we thus reject the Christian interpretation, and condemn its "significance" as a forgery, we are immediately confronted in a striking manner with the Schopenhauerian question: Has existence then a significance at all?  The question which will require a couple of centuries even to be completely heard in all its profundity.  Schopenhauer s own answer to this question was if I may be forgiven for saying so a premature, juvenile reply, a mere compromise, a stoppage and sticking in the very same Christian- ascetic, moral perspectives, the belief in which had got notice to quit along with the belief in God.  But he raised the question as a good European, as we have said, and not as a German.  Or did the Germans prove at least by the way in which they seized on the Schopenhauerian question, their inner connection and relationship to him, their preparation for his problem, and their need of it?  That there has been thinking and printing even in Germany since Schopenhauer s time on the problem raised by him, it was late enough!  does not at all suffice to enable us to decide in favour of this closer relationship; one could, on the contrary, lay great stress on the peculiar awkwardness of this post Schopenhauerian Pessimism Germans evidently do not behave themselves here as in their element.  I do not at all allude here to Eduard von Hartmann; on the contrary, my old suspicion is not vanished even at present that he is too clever for us; I mean to say that as arrant rogue from the very first, he did not perhaps make merry solely over German Pessimism and that in the end he might probably "bequeathe" to them the truth as to how far a person could bamboozle the Germans themselves in the age of bubble companies.  But further, are we perhaps to reckon to the honour of Germans, the old humming-top, Bahnsen, who all his life spun about with the greatest pleasure around his realistically dialectic misery and "personal ill-luck” was that German?  (In passing I recommend his writings for the purpose for which I myself have used them, as anti-pessimistic fare, especially on account of his elegantia psychologica, which, it seems to me, could alleviate even the most constipated body and soul).  Or would it be proper to count such dilettanti and old maids as the mawkish apostle of virginity, Mainlander, among the genuine Germans?  After all he was probably a Jew (all Jews become mawkish when they moralise).  Neither Bahnsen, nor Mainlander, nor even Eduard von Hartmann, give us a reliable grasp of the question whether the pessimism of Schopenhauer (his frightened glance into an undeified world, which has become stupid, blind, deranged and problematic, his honourable fright) was not only an exceptional case among Germans, but a German event: while everything else which stands in the foreground, like our valiant politics and our joyful Jingoism (which decidedly enough regards everything with reference to a principle sufficiently unphilosophical: "Deutschland, Deutschland, ueber Alles" consequently sub specie specie, namely the German species, testifies very plainly to the contrary.  No!  The Germans of today are not pessimists!  And Schopenhauer was a pessimist, I repeat it once more, as a good European, and not as a German.  

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