The two tendencies destroying formation (‘Bildung’)

[Warning for translators: please try to be careful when you translate Nietzsche, at least, the main concepts of any given text. He is so precise with words that bad translations destroy the understanding of his system. I have checked the original and I have found that everything was badly translated, so I give my own translation for the terms between square brackets. Now, it makes sense! To sum up:

– “Contraction & Concentration” oppose to “Extension”;
– “Intensification & Auto-Sufficiency” oppose to “Lowering & Insufficiency”].

«Two seemingly antagonistic tendencies, equally deleterious in their actions and ultimately combining to produce their results, are at present ruling over our formation institutes, although these were based originally upon very different principles. These forces are: a striving to achieve the greatest possible extension [Erweiterung] of formation on the one hand, and a tendency to lower [Verminderung] and to debilitate [Abschwächung] it, on the other. The first-named would fain spread learning among the greatest possible number of people, the second would compel formation to renounce its highest and most independent claims in order to subordinate itself to the service of the State. In the face of these two antagonistic tendencies [Tendenzen], we could but give ourselves up to despair, did we not see the possibility of promoting the cause of two other contending factors (…); I refer to the present movement towards contraction [Verengerung] and concentration [Koncentration] of formation as the antithesis of the first tendency, and that other movement towards the intensification [Stärkung] and the auto-sufficiency [Selbstgenugsamkeit] of formation as the antithesis of the second tendency.

If we should seek a warrant for our belief in the ultimate victory of the two last-named movements, we could find it in the fact that both of the forces which we hold to be deleterious are so opposed to the eternal purpose of nature as the concentration of formation for the few is in harmony with it, and is true, whereas the first two forces could succeed only in founding a culture false to the root. (…)

It seemed to me that I must recognise two main directions in the forces at work — two seemingly antagonistic tendencies, equally deleterious in their action, and ultimately combining to produce their results: a striving to achieve the greatest possible extension of formation on the one hand, and a tendency to minimise and weaken it on the other. The first-named would, for various reasons, spread learning among the greatest number of people; the second would compel formation to renounce its highest, noblest and sublimest claims in order to subordinate itself to some other department of life — such as the service of the State.

“I believe I have already hinted at the quarter in which the cry for the greatest possible extension of formation is most loudly raised. This extension belongs to the most beloved of the dogmas of modern political economy. As much knowledge and formation as possible; 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 formation, — utility in the sense of gain — the greatest possible pecuniary gain. In the quarter now under consideration culture would be defined as that point of vantage which enables one to ‘keep in the van of one’s age,’ from which one can see all the easiest and best roads to wealth, and with which one controls all the means of communication between men and nations. The purpose of formation, according to this scheme, would be to rear the most ‘current’ men possible, — ‘current’ being used here in the sense in which it is applied to the coins of the realm. The greater the number of such men, the happier a nation will be; and this precisely is the purpose of our modern institutes of formation: to help every one, as far as his nature will allow, to become ‘current’; to develop him so that his particular degree of knowledge and science may yield him the greatest possible amount of happiness and pecuniary gain. Every one must be able to form some sort of estimate of himself; he must know how much he may reasonably expect from life. The ‘bond between intelligence and property’ which this point of view postulates has almost the force of a moral principle. In this quarter, all culture is loathed which isolates, which sets goals beyond gold and gain, and which requires time: it is customary to dispose of such eccentric tendencies in formation as systems of ‘Higher Egotism,’ or of ‘Immoral Culture — Epicureanism.’ According to the morality reigning here, the demands are quite different; what is required above all is ‘rapid formation,’ so that a money-earning creature may be produced with all speed; there is even a desire to make this formation so thorough that a creature may be reared that will be able to earn a great deal of money. Men are allowed only the precise amount of culture which is compatible with the interests of gain; but that amount, at least, is expected from them. In short: mankind has a necessary right to happiness on earth — that is why culture is necessary — but on that account alone!” (…)

The most general form of culture is simply barbarism. (…)

“There are yet other reasons, besides this beloved economical dogma, for the extension of formation that is being striven after so valiantly everywhere. In some countries the fear of religious oppression is so general, and the dread of its results so marked, that people in all classes of society long for culture and eagerly absorb those elements of it which are supposed to scatter the religious instincts. Elsewhere the State, in its turn, strives here and there for its own preservation, after the greatest possible extension of formation, because it always feels strong enough to bring the most determined emancipation, resulting from culture, under its yoke, and readily approves of everything which tends to extend culture, provided that it be of service to its officials or soldiers, but in the main to itself, in itscompetition with other nations. In this case, the foundations of a State must be sufficiently broad and firm to constitute a fitting counterpart to the complicated arches of culture which it supports, just as in the first case the traces of some former religious tyranny must still be felt for a people to be driven to such desperate remedies. Thus, wherever I hear the masses raise the cry for an extension of formation, I am wont to ask myself whether it is stimulated by a greedy lust of gain and property, by the memory of a former religious persecution, or by the prudent egotism of the State itself.

“On the other hand, it seemed to me that there was yet another tendency, not so clamorous, perhaps, but quite as forcible, which, hailing from various quarters, was animated by a different desire, — the desire to reduce and debilitate formation.

“In all cultivated circles people are in the habit of whispering to one another words something after this style: that it is a general fact that, owing to the present frantic exploitation of the scholar in the service of his science, his formation becomes every day more accidental and more uncertain. For the study of science has been extended to such interminable lengths that he who, though not exceptionally gifted, yet possesses fair abilities, will need to devote himself exclusively to one branch and ignore all others if he ever wish to achieve anything in his work. Should he then elevate himself above the herd by means of his specialty, he still remains one of them in regard to all else, — that is to say, in regard to all the most important things in life. Thus, a specialist in science gets to resemble nothing so much as a factory workman who spends his whole life in turning one particular screw or handle on a certain instrument or machine, at which occupation he acquires the most consummate skill. In Germany, where we know how to drape such painful facts with the glorious garments of fancy, this narrow specialisation on the part of our learned men is even admired, and their ever greater deviation from the path of true culture is regarded as a moral phenomenon. ‘Fidelity in small things,’ ‘dogged faithfulness,’ become expressions of highest eulogy, and the lack of culture outside the specialty is flaunted abroad as a sign of noble sufficiency.

“For centuries it has been an understood thing that one alluded to scholars alone when one spoke of cultured men; but experience tells us that it would be difficult to find any necessary relation between the two classes today. For at present the exploitation of a man for the purpose of science is accepted everywhere without the slightest scruple. Who still ventures to ask, What may be the value of a science which consumes its minions in this vampire fashion?

The division of labour in science is practically struggling towards the same goal which religions in certain parts of the world are consciously striving after, — that is to say, towards the reduction and even the destruction of learning. That, however, which, in the case of certain religions, is a perfectly justifiable aim, both in regard to their origin and their history, can only amount to self-immolation when transferred to the realm of science. In all matters of a general and serious nature, and above all, in regard to the highest philosophical problems, we have now already reached a point at which the scientific man, as such, is no longer allowed to speak.

On the other hand, that adhesive and tenacious stratum which has now filled up the interstices between the sciences — Journalism — believes it has a mission to fulfil here, and this it does, according to its own particular lights — that is to say, as its name implies, after the fashion of a day-labourer.

It is precisely in journalism that the two tendencies combine and become one. The extension and the reduction of formation here join hands. The newspaper actually steps into the place of culture, and he who, even as a scholar, wishes to voice any claim for formation, must avail himself of this viscous stratum of communication which cements the seams between all forms of life, all classes, all arts, and all sciences, and which is as firm and reliable as newspaper is, as a rule. In the newspaper, the peculiar educational aims of the present culminate, just as the journalist, the servant of the moment, has stepped into the place of the genius, of the leader for all time, of the deliverer from the tyranny of the moment.

Now, tell me, distinguished master, what hopes could I still have in a struggle against the general topsy-turvification of all genuine aims for formation; with what courage can I, a single teacher, step forward, when I know that the moment any seeds of real culture are sown, they will be mercilessly crushed by the roller of this pseudo-culture

Nietzsche, Über die Zukunft unserer Bildungsanstalten” [On the Future of our Formation Institutes]

* An obvious reference to Stuart Mill’s utilitarian maxim.


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