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Hegel, Strauss, Hartmann
We said that the ‘historical sense’ imbues contemporary culture with two inimical tendencies. The first, we have just seen, was its overly micrological, ‘scientistic’ scholarship which, with its basely pragmatic aim of creating future scholars, treats the objective knowledge of the past as an end in itself rather than as a preparatory step on the way to a revitalized culture. The second is the tendency to view the past teleologically, as a rational process wherein events follow one after the other in a preordained order leading toward some providential end and to view ourselves as inhabiting that providential end.
This second inimical tendency of the ‘historical sense’ was highlighted in one of Nietzsche’s first properly philosophical writings, his once planned dissertation on Kant’s formulation of teleology. Intended to be a critique of the Kritik des Urtheilskraft, Nietzsche set out to show that Kant’s notion of social and political progress rested upon a conception of life as an organism whose manifold parts worked purposively rather than mechanically toward the goal of generating a more complete self out of itself. Nietzsche found this problematic on two levels. First, it presumed that organisms really are harmonious and unified entities such that their purposive activities instantiated nature’s own ends. Nietzsche sides with Goethe in thinking that the unity of parts in an organism is a necessary mental construction, but a quality indemonstrable with respect to the thing in-itself. “The concept of the whole is just our doing. Here lies the source of the representation of a goal [ Vorstellung des Zwecks]. The concept of the whole lies not in things, but in us. These unities [Einheiten], which we call organisms, are really multiplicities [Vielheiten]. There are in reality no individuals, rather individuals and organisms are nothing but abstractions.” Second, Nietzsche takes Kant’s organic purposiveness to be little more than an anthropomorphic analogy that reflects a certain value tendency. While Nietzsche doesn’t address Kant’s “Idee zu einer allgemeinen Geschichte in weltburgerlicher Absicht,” here a similar criticism of progressive and optimistic values endemic in teleological historiography comes to the fore. “Teleology, like optimism, is an aesthetic product.”
This second inimical tendency of the ‘historical sense’ is a psychological tendency to view every development of history as a progress toward a particularly rational, well-ordered, or providential end, an optimism that the world as it stands today is in some way better than it ever has been and that there is, beyond the flux of events, some force or power or divine hand that we must trust to provide something even better tomorrow. Kant intimates this supersensible power even while delimiting the possibility of its cognition. But the full-blown expression of the supersensible teleological force would only come a generation later. The second face of the historical sense is, to use a single word, Hegelianism.
Germany has become the breeding-place of this historical optimism; Hegel is perhaps to blame for this. Nothing, however, is more responsible for the fatal influence of German culture. [...] a servile sentiment and a kneeling down before the actual fact - "a sense for the Sim,” they now call it, as if that had still to be propagated! He who does not understand how brutal and unintelligent history is will never understand the stimulus to make it intelligent.
It must be admitted that Nietzsche names Hegel sparingly in his published corpus. The other hero of teleological interpretation, the inverted Hegelian Karl Marx, is in fact never mentioned a single time anywhere in Nietzsche’s published works or unpublished writing or even his correspondence. Instead of these, Nietzsche’s target is more often the subsequent generation of historiographical teleologists, David Friedrich Strauss and Eduard von Hartmann, on the former of whom Nietzsche wrote his first book after The Birth of Tragedy and to the latter of whom he dedicated a substantial portion of his second.
Although David Friedrich Strauss was hardly well liked in Hegelian circles, he himself held a view of historical progress and a faith in the power of reason that clearly bore their stamp.84 His effort to show the mythographic character of the New Testament’s historiography of miracles, to show how the differences in historical interpretations of biblical stories rested on their author’s level of rational awareness, was in equal measure decried by religious conservatives and lauded by the ranks of ‘enlightened’ progressivists. To Nietzsche’s mind, however, the popularity of an author is rarely an indicator of quality. More often than not, popularity marks the author’s appeal to what the common people consider culture, an affirmation of the everyday and the everyman. Little would excite the people more than a systematic defense of that which they already believe and value. And this, for Nietzsche, is precisely the appeal of Strauss, who thus embodies his derisive mantra: ‘philistine.’85 And what especially concerned Nietzsche was how Strauss’s project was a justification of the present culture via an adaptation of the Hegelian teleological historiography. Strauss writes:
Do not for a moment forget that you and all that you are aware of within and around you is no disconnected fragment [zusammenhangloses Bruchstiick], no wild chaos of atoms and accidents, but that everything proceeds according to eternal laws [ewigen Gesetzen] out of the one primeval source of all life, all reason and all goodness - that is the acme [Inbegriff] of religion.”86
For Strauss, with the smile of Dr. Pangloss, everything today is “for the best.” Popular culture today is no accident, he promised, but a simultaneously rational and providential end that guarantees both the intellectual and moral rectitude of our contemporary values.87 Against Strauss’ philistine optimism, Nietzsche sarcastically pleads:
track onto the sphere of ethics. ‘Progress’ is no historical law at all, neither intellectual nor moral nor economic.” KGWi/4, 365. Reinhardt (i960), 298 attributes to Nietzsche’s early work a bizarre sort of three-stage teleology, which is hardly defensible.
On the contrary, Herr Magister. an honest natural scientist believes that the world conforms unconditionally to laws, without however asserting anything as to the ethical or intellectual value of these laws: he would regard any such assertions as the extreme anthropomorphism of a reason unchecked by the bounds of the permitted [einer nicht in den Schranken des Erlaubten sich haltenden Vernunft]8
The epistemological viability of ascribing historical laws will be considered in the next chapter. For now, again, the concentration is on the psychological dynamic that would lead a historian to write the way he or she does. And because judgment is constituted by the affects, drives, instincts, and values of the historical judge, Nietzsche’s critique of Strauss focuses on the roots of the tree, so to say, rather than Strauss’s particular judgments. When it comes to teleological historiography, Nietzsche thinks there is some instinct to regard the present as the justification of historical events generally, a justification that behind every event there was a greater hand at work. We in the present day, with our values and our culture, are the fulfillment of the meaning of those events. And because of this, it is the task of historiography to show in what ways our present day is the necessary fulfillment of that long history. “[T]he sole proviso was that everything must remain as it was before, that nothing should at any price undermine the ‘rational’ [‘ VernUnftigen ] and the ‘real’ [‘ Wirklichen ], that is to say, the philistine.” 
Those satisfied with the present culture, that which in Nietzsche’s thought is so degenerate, are led by instinct to re-present their past as a continual process that justifies their kind of life.
It was these same self-contented people who, with the same end in view of guaranteeing their own peace, took charge of history [Geschichte] and sought to transform every science which might be expected to disturb their complacency into an historical discipline, especially so in the case of philosophy and classical philology. Through historical awareness they saved themselves from enthusiasm - since history wasn’t supposed to excite it any more.
An even worse example of these self-contented people is the target of the latter chapters of Nutzen und Nachteil, Eduard von Hartmann. On the one hand adopting the Schopenhauerian conception of the unconscious fundament of conscious action, and on the other hand embracing the Hegelian teleological view of history, Hartmann’s global project is to reveal the “spiritual source” of the Unconscious in the purposiveness of nature. Through the interaction of the divine hand within the unconscious of every individual and the natural material conditions and circumstances of a given epoch, history proceeds along its prescribed vector toward its prescribed ends. “What then is fate or providence [Shicksal oder Vorsehung] but the rule of the Unconscious, the historic instinct in the actions of mankind, as long as their conscious understanding is not mature enough to make the aims of history their own!” All events, all progress, are thus prescribed in advance by the divine will, like a tacit playbook of life written in an individual’s unconscious. And the individual’s unconscious plan happily fits together with the evolution of history generally, as a sort of ‘metaphysical unconscious.’ For Hartmann, this explains both the mysterious culture-wide impulse that seemingly all at once causes the masses to migrate, go on crusades, or revolt against their leaders, and also the production of great pioneers or visionaries, who seem to “just appear at the right time and place to solve epochal problems.”93 As humankind over the spans of history recognizes to an increasingly conscious degree what those providential aims are, and discovers through its own powers of reflection how to accomplish them, its reliance on unconscious injunctions proportionately decreases. During its more rational era of development, humankind works consciously to accomplish what it was once only unconsciously driven to achieve. Thus, the age in which Hartmann found himself, because of its manifest dependence on conscious rational reflection over and above instinctual blind’ willing, reveals itself to be the most complete articulation of the goals of the Divine Will.
For the aims of the individual are always selfish, each one seeks only to further his own well-being, and if this conduces to the welfare of the whole, the merit is certainly not his [...] But the wonderful part of the matter is that even in the mind, which wills the bad but works the good, the results become, by combination of many selfish purposes, quite other than each individual had imagined, and that in the last resort they always conduce to the welfare of the whole, although the advantage is somewhat remote, and centuries of retrogression seem to contradict it.
Just as for Hegel, all human activity for Hartmann works toward the fulfillment of the Absolute. The force of egoism and personal volition is dispelled for both as a mere means to justify ends humankind did not intend but cannot avoid. Whatever evils spring up despite the preponderance of conscious reflection and even those that arise because of it at the expense of unconscious instinct in this age are to be seen as necessary. As such, Hartmann admits that his is a thoroughly pessimistic view of human activity, one wherein the human being’s only hope rests “in the final redemption from misery of volition and existence into the painlessness of non-being and non-willing.” And as the individual consciousness gains ever-more influence while unconscious motivations are further and further restrained, the task is to strip away the ‘happy illusions’ of free will and selfdetermination, leading unavoidably to despair in the conscious realization that the individual is nothing more than a cog in the Weltprozess: “man only has value, only has meaning, insofar as he is a stone in a great building.” The present, fully rational epoch is analogous to what is called ‘ripe old-age,’ a condition in which one’s hopes and wishes are at last relinquished under the crushing yoke of an accepted futility before the demands of fate, the eventual recognition of the individual’s powerlessness to will at all - a recognition that Nietzsche would characterize as, “die volle Hingabe der Personlichkeit an den Weltprozess [the total sacrifice of individuality to the world-process].”
Nietzsche thinks that by attributing a causal role in human affairs to some divine Metaphysical Unconscious which unfolds its ends throughout a historical process, Hartmann has not only effaced the influence of Schopenhauer, but has also reduced the individually objectified Will to nothing more than an arbitrary expression of the Metaphysical Unconscious. That is, the expression of individual Will does not actually affect history or culture in any period of world history, but merely expresses the unfolding of universal and already determined cultural, historical, philosophical, or even biological and environmental movements. The result of this, Nietzsche argues, is that for Hartmann there is nothing actual for the individual to press his Will upon, no goal that he can set for himself, in short, nothing left to do. Hence Nietzsche’s critique:
The time will come when one will prudently refrain from all constructions of the world-process or even of the history of humanity; a time when one will regard not the masses but individuals, who form a kind of bridge across the turbulent stream of becoming. These individuals do not carry forward any process but live ever-contemporaneously [zeitlos-gleichzeitig] with one another; thanks to history, which permits such a collaboration, they live as that ‘Republic of Genius’ of which Schopenhauer once spoke; one giant calls to another across the desert intervals oftime and, undisturbed by the excited chattering dwarfs who creep about beneath them, the exalted spirit-dialogue [?Geistergesprach] goes on. It is the task of history to be the mediator between them and thus to ever again inspire and lend the strength for the production ofthe great man. No, the goal ofhumanity [das Ziel der Menscheii] cannot lie in its end, but only in its highest exemplars [Exemplaren].
Contrary to Hartmann, Nietzsche believes that history is to be told from the point of view of exemplars and not of the masses, that the greatness of antiquity is to be considered among the highest modes of civilization rather than as a merely curious preliminary step on the ladder of universal progress, that history is to be considered a bridge between exemplary individuals and not some goal-orientated process in whose outcome they play no meaningful role, and that whatever development can be ascribed to history is the result of the willful competition between individuals and not the unconscious will of God toward His divine ends. On Nietzsche’s view of history, the individual Will appears as a catalyst which through struggle with other competing Wills brings about the continuous alteration and fluctuation - but not always the betterment or advancement - of the forms of life. For Nietzsche the Will always seeks the increase ofits own power, for Hartmann only its surrender to the Metaphysical Unconscious. As he says of Hartmann’s conception of the Will, “Thus does it labor for the extension of misery [Verlangerung des Elends]: and indeed afterwards it understands that the entire Will is essential misery! Thus its advancement is either madness or else evil [Bosheit].”
As he did with Strauss, Nietzsche searched for the ‘historical sense’ that leads Hartmann to these views, and believes he has located the roots ofwhat he calls the ‘ironic self-awareness’ of modernity in an unconscious remnant from the Christian belief in a purpose and telos in existence, an idea which leads man to wait upon the Last Judgment as the goal of life, “a religion which of all the hours of a man’s life holds the last to be the most important.” Hartmann is a disciple of this religion, and with the feigned optimism of Hegelian historicity, which maintains that ‘now’ is as it should be and that (no matter how corrupt) all is ‘now’ the best that ever could be, Hartmann pronounces a ‘cynical sentence’ upon mankind. “Acerbic and profoundly serious reflection on the worthlessness of everything that has happened [alles Geschehenen], on a world ripe for the judge, is made volatile by the skeptical consciousness that it is at any rate good to know about everything that has happened [alles Geschehene zu wissen], because it is too late to do any better.” The danger of teleological historiography is cultural nihilism. “The Hartmannian goal is to lead humanity into placidity [Blasirtheit]: then, general suicide ...! Then will the world capsize and sink further into the sea of nothingness.” In one of his final words on Hartmann, Nietzsche groups his theory of the Unconscious alongside Duhring’s anti-Semitism as the two most invidious German poisons, a sin against life itself - life, which is not the placid acceptance of a common fate but the struggle to fulfill one’s own unique aims. “Is life not assessing, preferring, being unjust, being limited [Begrenzt-sein], wanting to be different?”105
In sum, Nietzsche has two distinct critiques of the ‘historical sense.’ On the one hand, scientific historians are overly consumed by the culturally meaningless ‘objective’ details of their study while failing to recognize its true importance as a preliminary step in the education of authentic individuals. Nineteenth-century teleologists, on the other, in interpreting the events of history as an aimed process whose goal turns out to be their own present age, either manifest a philistinism that justifies popular culture as rational and necessary or else fall into a nihilism which views individual willing as little more than a delusion. The ‘historical sense’ thus leads the modern man to pick his poison among stilted insignificance, philistinism, and nihilism.
These critiques give rise to sentiments of contemporary historians of historiography like Georg Iggers, who thinks Nietzsche “denied the possibility as well as the utility of historical research and scholarly historiography;” and Lionel Gossman, who claims that Nietzsche simply hated history and the historians who write it. The great postmodern philosopher of history Hayden White claims, “Nietzsche hated history even more than he hated religion.” These are, obviously, quite wrong-headed portraits of Nietzsche’s philosophy of history, for at least three reasons. First, as even Nietzsche’s title makes clear, historiography can be advantageous or disadvantageous for life depending on how the historian employs it. If his discussions ofthe latter are more memorable, it is perhaps due more to their acerbity than to an absence of the former. Second, as we will see in Chapter 6, Nietzsche thinks historical sense - at least a healthy version of it - is absolutely essential to the sort of philosophical project he envisions. And third, for all his blustering against his forerunners and colleagues, Nietzsche looked with great respect on a number of historians whom he believed embodied a healthy psychological dynamic. To three of them we now turn.
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