In his 1957 book Germany’s New Conservatism, the German expat-cum-American scholar Klemens von Klemperer makes the case that, during the days of Weimar, “strong Nietzscheans” dominated the revolutionary Right. Such thinkers as Oswald Spengler, Edgar Julius Jung, and Arthur Moeller van den Bruck formed what was then known as “neo-conservatism,” a term that in American parlance means Northeastern swamp creatures with more than a passing connection to a certain Abrahamic religion. Von Klemperer’s neo-conservatives, despite their intellectual diversity, all saw in Friedrich Nietzsche a prophet against the dead nineteenth century–a lonely voice barking Romantic invectives against such ills as egalitarianism, Western capitalism, and the stultifying conventions of bourgeoisie liberalism.
Frankly, the neo-conservatives should have been better readers of Nietzsche.
The syphilitic genius is a lot of things to a lot of people. Some regard him as the philosophical father of Nazism. This fact comes courtesy of his hated sister Elisabeth, who popularized highly edited versions of her brother’s typically dense books and essays. Others see Nietzsche as Germany’s arch-nihilist and the creator of the “ubermensch” delusion. To some he is the godfather of Leopold and Loeb. Nietzsche wasn’t really any of these things. If nothing else, the man who considered himself an educator was a spiritual aristocrat, a individualist anarchist, and someone simply mad, bad, and dangerous to know.
Nietzsche was and remains the unchallenged authority on what ills our modern world the most: our rotten education system.
Your typical man on the street in America 2018 A.D. will come up with a small catalog of answers about what to do with our education system. The race realist will speak of declining worldwide IQs and America’s increasing mongrelization driven by unassimilated races with below-average intelligence capacities. The fan of Fox News will spout off about the absurd power of America’s teacher unions and the need for more school vouchers. The NPC (see: leftist) will make some blustery noise about lack of funds, despite the fact that America’s education system is the embodiment of colossal bloat.
Nietzsche’s answer (the right answer) bypasses all of this nonsense. The truth is that public education was a mistake. More than that, the stated purpose of the education system, no matter the nation, is a based on a lie. We are not equal, and forcing us to toil through years of dumbed down schooling makes the stupid feel good enough and the intelligent feel suicidal.
Recently published in a handsome volume by the New York Review of Books under the title Anti-Education, Nietzsche’s string of lectures from 1872 about the state of modern education reminds us that the true purpose of education is to cultivate the genius among us. We are not all geniuses, despite what well-funded eduprop may tell you. There is not a Rembrandt hidden in each booger-eater, and the next Tesla is not currently marching toward the U.S. border from Guatemala. No, Nietzsche knew well that true genius is rare indeed.
Anti-Education, which was initially entitled “On the Future of Our Educational Institutions,” takes as its antagonist the German higher education system. Such an enemy was bold, especially since a unified Germany had only been formed a year before by the might of the Prussian army. Although Nietzsche delivered his broadside from the patrician city of Basel, Switzerland (where he was a young philology professor), it still took some courage to denounce the education system that was then considered the best in the world. German research universities were envied and emulated. The American system is but a veritable copy of the Wilhelmine German education system, warts and all. For Nietzsche, the biggest blemish on the German education system was its professionalization and specialization. Furthermore, rather than be independent scholars sponsored by reputation-seeking patrons, the scholars of 19th century Germany became appendages of the expansive and all-devouring state. This problem has only increased with time.
Here Nietzsche breaks with Hegel, that arch defender of the conservatism of state power worship. In Anti-Education, Nietzsche uses a dialogue between a student and a brilliant, but misunderstood philosopher to argue for a return to Greek civilization via a complete transformation of the German spirit.
“A thorough reformation and purification of the public school can only be the outcome of a profound and powerful reformation and purification of the German spirit. It is a very complex and difficult task to find the border-line which joins the heart of the Germanic spirit with the genius of Greece.”
The problem with finding this linkage between Greece and Germany is what Nietzsche castigates as the abhorrence called “culture.” Newspapers, academic monographs, and critically-acclaimed research–all of these define “culture,” a corrupted offspring of the original sublimity of Classical Age Greece. To bastardize Plato, if Greece is the Ideal Form, then everything since has been but a debased attempt at emulation. In Nietzsche’s day, they at least made a pretense of seeking Greek wisdom. Today, universities chase trends like lawyers chase ambulances, and they make a show out of defecating on tradition.
The vile state of our schools is the predictable result of public education. Nietzsche’s comparison of compulsory school attendance to military conscription is apt, although the soldier’s uniform is eventually discarded once the terms of conscription are meant. The residue of compulsory education lasts much longer.
“Where every one proudly wears his soldier’s uniform at regular intervals, where almost every one has absorbed a uniform of national culture through the public schools, enthusiastic hyperboles may well be uttered concerning the systems employed in former times, and a form of State omnipotence which was attained only in antiquity, and which almost every young man, by both instinct and training, thinks it is the crowning glory and highest aim of human beings to reach.”
Our public schools teach us not only to depend on the state, but to think of the state as natural, when the opposite is true. The modern, liberal, and totalitarian state relies so heavily on education because it is a form of indoctrination masquerading as culture. And who doesn’t want to be cultured?
Nietzsche’s Anti-Education offers no solution to the modern malaise of industrialized education. However, some solutions can be mused. First of all, the destruction of public education cannot come soon enough. Our schools are monster-making factories that have shown an inability to teach the fundamentals of literacy. Second, a return to older norms about education is long overdue. Most students should receive their instruction at home until they reach working age. From there, the vast majority of students should either spend years in the armed forces or attend trade schools. Those who prove themselves proficient at beneficial sciences like medicine, chemistry, biology, etc. should then continue their studies and research at state-funded institutes.
Higher education should be left to the very few who possess real genius. These schools, which will not receive state-funding, should seek to surround their pupils with only the best of Western traditions. Such a program not only saves the state money, but would provide our desiccated society with a true elite and a possible aristocracy for the end days of liberalism.
The status quo of the education monolith cannot stand any longer. Anti-Education provides the groundwork for rethinking the problem. It is up to us to figure a way out the matrix. The health and wellbeing of millions of bored students depends on it.