The State in education – Part I: A History

In Beyond Good and Evil, written after breaking with composer Richard Wagner and subsequently rejecting hyper-nationalism, Friedrich Nietzsche proposed the existence of a group of people who cannot abide to see others successful or happy. Appropriately, he dubbed these people and their attitude “ressentiment,” or “resentment” in French. His profile of the resentful is most unkind, bordering on the snobbish – though Nietzsche had very little personal cause to feel superior (he was part of the minor nobility but always insisted that, due to his father’s premature death and his mother’s lack of connections, his legal rank was never of much benefit to him). Insanely proud of his classical education and remarkable, even for that time, fluency in Ancient Greek and Latin, the philosopher latched onto these languages as symbolic variables in his descriptions of society and its woes.

Much like the French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir who, a century later, attempted to prove that history was made by socio-cultural gender dynamics (Le deuxième sexe), Nietzsche proposed that all of (European) history since the fall of the Roman Empire was a battle between the cosmopolitan, classically-educated aristocracy and the technician, parochial lower classes. Unlike de Beauvoir who saw the world as oppressor-oppressed, the German believed that the lower orders, motivated by jealousy and feelings of exclusion, tried to pull their superiors down, creating a peculiar situation in which those who believed themselves the oppressed engaged in oppressive behavior.

As evidence of his theory, Nietzsche suggested in The Genealogy of Morals that the Protestant Reformation was the ultimate achievement of the resentful classes; functionaries, unable to understand the Latin of the Roman liturgy, read the writings of the ancient and medieval philosophers, or participate meaningfully in the conversations and society of the Renaissance, responded by turning the Church into the personification of all they hated – not unlike a voodoo doll – and then ousted it from their lives and countries. At least, this is what Nietzsche thought had occurred, adding that the cloddish nationalism that he had rejected would not have been possible without first banishing the Catholic Church and the refinement it introduced through fostering Latin, Greek, and Classical literature and philosophy.

On the practical plane, Nietzsche’s primary concern, post-Wagner, was the advent of Prussian hegemony and the loss of autonomy among the German member states. Before his friendship with Wagner, Nietzsche gave a lecture series on education which he intended to collect and publish as a book. The book never materialized [until 2016, when the Paul Reitter compiled the notes and lecture transcripts into book form under the title Anti-Education], but the philosopher did write a preface that he gifted to Cosima Wagner under the title “Five Prefaces to Five Unwritten Books,” which helped precipitate the quarrel since Nietzsche signaled clearly that he rejected the Wagnerian philosophy of the innate nobility of the (German) savage.

Much of Anti-Education is harsh and unyielding, moreover because there is much in it that is true. In it, one can see the early kernels of Nietzsche’s identification of ressentiment and the genesis of ideas concerning individuality and nobility that he returned to later in life. There is also much that is applicable today.

Nietzsche asked,

Why does the state need such a surplus of educational institutions and teachers? Why promote popular enlightenment on such scale? Because the genuine German spirit [that of the Renaissance princes] is so hated – because they fear the aristocratic nature of true education and culture – because they are determined to drive the few that are great into self-imposed exile, so that a pretension of culture can be implanted and cultivated in the many – because they want to avoid the hard and rigorous discipline of the great leader, and convince the masses that they can find the guiding path for themselves … under the guiding star of the state! Now that is something new: the state as the guiding star of culture!

Nietzsche wrote / spoke this on the takeover by the state of the education system, also known as the Prussian public school system, which “reformer” Horace Mann promptly imported to the United States. The false promise of public education, as Nietzsche saw it, was that state schools claimed the laurels and legitimacy of private gymnasia through deceit – speaking to a university audience, he expected everyone to know that pre-state control, there were two types of secondary schools: gymnasium, where the student received a classical education and prepared to enter university, and realschule, where the student learned the three Rs, along with some science, and entered the workforce immediately after graduation. Nietzsche claimed that while the gymnasium curriculum needed a significant overhaul, the only products of the realschule were conformity, obedience, and an inflated sense of achievement. Hence, he believed, when the government took over the education system, officials chose to model the public school on the old realschule, while claiming that graduates had the knowledge and skills of the gymnasium.

It is important to note at this juncture that Nietzsche bore a very visceral hatred of the Prussians in general and of Otto von Bismarck in particular. Viewing the former as unintelligent clods whose threat lay in their stupidity, the philosopher deemed the latter and his eponymous Bismarckian welfare state a greater threat to personal freedom. From 1888 until his nervous breakdown and descent into madness in 1899, Nietzsche called for the trial of Bismarck for treason, along with the removal of Kaiser Wilhelm II, in a sequence of letters and essays which his sister and executors suppressed, both to accommodate their own agendas and to avoid the attention of the censors.

The treason of Bismarck lay in his creation of a nation whose people were unwittingly dependent on the state. The state provided education during infancy and a pension in old age. As Nietzsche correctly saw, when the state controls the beginning of the pipeline and the end, everyone is in its employ. As he also foretold, the situation would end in violence (for Germany specifically; hence his interest in preempting war by removing its figurehead king) and heartbreak for those who placed their faith in the anti-individualistic state.

At a very fundamental level, Nietzsche believed that the public school system, with is inadequate education and contempt for classical learning and languages, was a conspiracy designed to drive a wedge among the social classes, enabling the state to increase control in the ensuing vacuum. The other aspect he identified was the use of public opinion to strip the individual of drive or thirst for a better life through a mixture of flattery and subversion of ambition. The outcome would be war and resentment, he predicted, for any country foolish enough to have faith in the Prussian system. Next week, we will examine whether Nietzsche’s predictions have come true in modern American education.

What I Did Not Write About Enough in 2012

Climate change

Nothing new there. Alarmists keep lying, making up data, cherry-picking data, exaggerating grossly the consequences of what does happen on the climate front. Not really worth dealing with. Instead, go to the “What’s Up With That” blog every so often. There is a direct link to it on the front of this blog and here also, is the link: Masters, McKibben and Droughting Thomases.

It’s not exactly a dead horse though; it’s a new religion that will find its place among others and perhaps, next to the “Maya Calendar End of the World” cult. Or, maybe not, or maybe, it’s a little more: It looks like one of those widespread but lightly held beliefs. It may become soon like the rule that you don’t walk under a ladder. It might influence legislation yet, but, I think not in a major way. I believe we got off easy.

Belief in global warming plays an important role in my life though. It helps me separate in seconds those who are real skeptics, like me, from those who merely play at pretending to be skeptics in order to glean the social benefits of such skepticism.

And, in case you are wondering, here is my current understanding: There is no warming that is global, and of significant duration, and that’s man-made, and that constitutes an emergency for humankind. Continue reading

I Am Bored So Here Is A Story

I am not yet mentally ready to face squarely the fact that the Obama administration is going to do all the wrong things about our dire economy. Let me say again that Pres.-elect Obama is not the Anti-Christ. It’s just that you can’t implement policies the existence of which you don’t even suspect. Obama is a recognizable type. He is a Social-Democrat, European-style, circa 1970.

I am bored with current events. One more time, the Democratic Party has to deal with corruption in its Illinois branch. Reminder: a former Governor of Illinois is currently in jail. Gov. Blago was caught with his hand close to the cookie jar, not even inside. Big deal! The Democratic Party does not want to risk a special election to fill Obama’s Senate seat because of the tiny chance that a Republican might win. Makes me yawn.

The West Europeans are suffering from heating gas delivery cuts in the middle of the winter. Russia is cutting them off. My only reaction: It told you so, in the nineties!

The mayhem is continuing in Gaza. That’s boring too: Some Palestinian group gets up on a hill, pounds its chest, shoots in the direction of Israel with a .22, and promises aloud to obliterate the Zionist entity and to kill many Zionists. The Israelis get pissed off, they return fire with an M16. They kill hundreds of Palestinians; a handful of Israelis die. Then, anti-Semites worldwide join hands with mindless do-gooding tender-hearts and force Israel to stop. Everyone goes home until next time.

Hamas, lying on the sidewalk in a pool of blood, with two broken legs, a skull fracture, and one eye missing declares victory. The Arab world cheers!

A question lazy journalists don’t ask: The current death rate of Gaza residents at the hands of Israel is comparable to the homicide rate of what country? (Relevant blog: Nationamasterblog.)

As I said, I am bored. I don’t seem to be the only one. Today at noon, every major television network showed us an empty room awaiting impeached Gov. Blago to arrive to make a meaningless declaration instead of broadcasting Gaza and surroundings.

You may be bored too so, here is a completely unrelated story. Continue reading