On the Future of our Educational Institutions
by Friedrich Nietzsche
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"Permit me, however, to measure this independence of yours by the standard of this culture, and to consider your university as an educational institution and nothing else. If a foreigner desires to know something of the methods of our universities, he asks first of all with emphasis: 'How is the student connected with the university?' We answer: 'By the ear, as a hearer.' The foreigner is astonished. 'Only by the ear?' he repeats. 'Only by the ear,' we again reply. The student hears. When he speaks, when he sees, when he is in the company of his companions when he takes up some branch of art: in short, when he lives he is independent, i.e. not dependent upon the educational institution. The student very often writes down something while he hears; and it is only at these rare moments that he hangs to the umbilical cord of his alma mater. He himself may choose what he is to listen to; he is not bound to believe what is said; he may close his ears if he does not care to hear. This is the 'acroamatic' method of teaching.

"The teacher, however, speaks to these listening students. Whatever else he may think and do is cut off from the student's perception by an immense gap. The professor often reads when he is speaking. As a rule he wishes to have as many hearers as possible; he is not content to have a few, and he is never satisfied with one only. One speaking mouth, with many ears, and half as many writing hands—there you have to all appearances, the external academical apparatus; the university engine of culture set in motion. Moreover, the proprietor of this one mouth is severed from and independent of the owners of the many ears; and this double independence is enthusiastically designated as 'academical freedom.' And again, that this freedom may be broadened still more, the one may speak what he likes and the other may hear what he likes; except that, behind both of them, at a modest distance, stands the State, with all the intentness of a supervisor, to remind the professors and students from time to time that it is the aim, the goal, the be-all and end-all, of this curious speaking and hearing procedure.

"We, who must be permitted to regard this phenomenon merely as an educational institution, will then inform the inquiring foreigner that what is called 'culture' in our universities merely proceeds from the mouth to the ear, and that every kind of training for culture is, as I said before, merely 'acroamatic.' Since, however, not only the hearing, but also the choice of what to hear is left to the independent decision of the liberal-minded and unprejudiced student, and since, again, he can withhold all belief and authority from what he hears, all training for culture, in the true sense of the term, reverts to himself; and the independence it was thought desirable to aim at in the public school now presents itself with the highest possible pride as 'academical self-training for culture,' and struts about in its brilliant plumage.

"Happy times, when youths are clever and cultured enough to teach themselves how to walk! Unsurpassable public schools, which succeed in implanting independence in the place of the dependence, discipline, subordination, and obedience implanted by former generations that thought it their duty to drive away all the bumptiousness of independence! Do you clearly see, my good friends, why I, from the standpoint of culture, regard the present type of university as a mere appendage to the public school? The culture instilled by the public school passes through the gates of the university as something ready and entire, and with its own particular claims: it demands, it gives laws, it sits in judgment. Do not, then, let yourselves be deceived in regard to the cultured student; for he, in so far as he thinks he has absorbed the blessings of education, is merely the public school boy as moulded by the hands of his teacher: one who, since his academical isolation, and after he has left the public school, has therefore been deprived of all further guidance to culture, that from now on he may begin to live by himself and be free.

"Free! Examine this freedom, ye observers of human nature! Erected upon the sandy, crumbling foundation of our present public school culture, its building slants to one side, trembling before the whirlwind's blast. Look at the free student, the herald of self-culture: guess what his instincts are; explain him from his needs! How does his culture appear to you when you measure it by three graduated scales: first, by his need for philosophy; second, by his instinct for art; and third, by Greek and Roman antiquity as the incarnate categorical imperative of all culture?

"Man is so much encompassed about by the most serious and difficult problems that, when they are brought to his attention in the right way, he is impelled betimes towards a lasting kind of philosophical wonder, from which alone, as a fruitful soil, a deep and noble culture can grow forth. His own experiences lead him most frequently to the consideration of these problems; and it is especially in the tempestuous period of youth that every personal event shines with a double gleam, both as the exemplification of a triviality and, at the same time, of an eternally surprising problem, deserving of explanation. At this age, which, as it were, sees his experiences encircled with metaphysical rainbows, man is, in the highest degree, in need of a guiding hand, because he has suddenly and almost instinctively convinced himself of the ambiguity of existence, and has lost the firm support of the beliefs he has hitherto held.

"This natural state of great need must of course be looked upon as the worst enemy of that beloved independence for which the cultured youth of the present day should be trained. All these sons of the present, who have raised the banner of the 'self-understood,' are therefore straining every nerve to crush down these feelings of youth, to cripple them, to mislead them, or to stop their growth altogether; and the favourite means employed is to paralyse that natural philosophic impulse by the so-called "historical culture." A still recent system,[10] which has won for itself a world-wide scandalous reputation, has discovered the formula for this self-destruction of philosophy; and now, wherever the historical view of things is found, we can see such a naive recklessness in bringing the irrational to 'rationality' and 'reason' and making black look like white, that one is even inclined to parody Hegel's phrase and ask: 'Is all this irrationality real?' Ah, it is only the irrational that now seems to be 'real,' i.e. really doing something; and to bring this kind of reality forward for the elucidation of history is reckoned as true 'historical culture.' It is into this that the philosophical impulse of our time has pupated itself; and the peculiar philosophers of our universities seem to have conspired to fortify and confirm the young academicians in it.

"It has thus come to pass that, in place of a profound interpretation of the eternally recurring problems, a historical—yea, even philological—balancing and questioning has entered into the educational arena: what this or that philosopher has or has not thought; whether this or that essay or dialogue is to be ascribed to him or not; or even whether this particular reading of a classical text is to be preferred to that. It is to neutral preoccupations with philosophy like these that our students in philosophical seminaries are stimulated; whence I have long accustomed myself to regard such science as a mere ramification of philology, and to value its representatives in proportion as they are good or bad philologists. So it has come about that philosophy itself is banished from the universities: wherewith our first question as to the value of our universities from the standpoint of culture is answered.

"In what relationship these universities stand to art cannot be acknowledged without shame: in none at all. Of artistic thinking, learning, striving, and comparison, we do not find in them a single trace; and no one would seriously think that the voice of the universities would ever be raised to help the advancement of the higher national schemes of art. Whether an individual teacher feels himself to be personally qualified for art, or whether a professorial chair has been established for the training of aestheticising literary historians, does not enter into the question at all: the fact remains that the university is not in a position to control the young academician by severe artistic discipline, and that it must let happen what happens, willy-nilly—and this is the cutting answer to the immodest pretensions of the universities to represent themselves as the highest educational institutions.

"We find our academical 'independents' growing up without philosophy and without art; and how can they then have any need to 'go in for' the Greeks and Romans?—for we need now no longer pretend, like our forefathers, to have any great regard for Greece and Rome, which, besides, sit enthroned in almost inaccessible loneliness and majestic alienation. The universities of the present time consequently give no heed to almost extinct educational predilections like these, and found their philological chairs for the training of new and exclusive generations of philologists, who on their part give similar philological preparation in the public schools—a vicious circle which is useful neither to philologists nor to public schools, but which above all accuses the university for the third time of not being what it so pompously proclaims itself to be—a training ground for culture. Take away the Greeks, together with philosophy and art, and what ladder have you still remaining by which to ascend to culture? For, if you attempt to clamber up the ladder without these helps, you must permit me to inform you that all your learning will lie like a heavy burden on your shoulders rather than furnishing you with wings and bearing you aloft.

"If you honest thinkers have honourably remained in these three stages of intelligence, and have perceived that, in comparison with the Greeks, the modern student is unsuited to and unprepared for philosophy, that he has no truly artistic instincts, and is merely a barbarian believing himself to be free, you will not on this account turn away from him in disgust, although you will, of course, avoid coming into too close proximity with him. For, as he now is, he is not to blame: as you have perceived him he is the dumb but terrible accuser of those who are to blame.

"You should understand the secret language spoken by this guilty innocent, and then you, too, would learn to understand the inward state of that independence which is paraded outwardly with so much ostentation. Not one of these noble, well-qualified youths has remained a stranger to that restless, tiring, perplexing, and debilitating need of culture: during his university term, when he is apparently the only free man in a crowd of servants and officials, he atones for this huge illusion of freedom by ever-growing inner doubts and convictions. He feels that he can neither lead nor help himself; and then he plunges hopelessly into the workaday world and endeavours to ward off such feelings by study. The most trivial bustle fastens itself upon him; he sinks under his heavy burden. Then he suddenly pulls himself together; he still feels some of that power within him which would have enabled him to keep his head above water. Pride and noble resolutions assert themselves and grow in him. He is afraid of sinking at this early stage into the limits of a narrow profession; and now he grasps at pillars and railings alongside the stream that he may not be swept away by the current. In vain! for these supports give way, and he finds he has clutched at broken reeds. In low and despondent spirits he sees his plans vanish away in smoke. His condition is undignified, even dreadful: he keeps between the two extremes of work at high pressure and a state of melancholy enervation. Then he becomes tired, lazy, afraid of work, fearful of everything great; and hating himself. He looks into his own breast, analyses his faculties, and finds he is only peering into hollow and chaotic vacuity. And then he once more falls from the heights of his eagerly-desired self-knowledge into an ironical scepticism. He divests his struggles of their real importance, and feels himself ready to undertake any class of useful work, however degrading. He now seeks consolation in hasty and incessant action so as to hide himself from himself. And thus his helplessness and the want of a leader towards culture drive him from one form of life into another: but doubt, elevation, worry, hope, despair—everything flings him hither and thither as a proof that all the stars above him by which he could have guided his ship have set.

"There you have the picture of this glorious independence of yours, of that academical freedom, reflected in the highest minds—those which are truly in need of culture, compared with whom that other crowd of indifferent natures does not count at all, natures that delight in their freedom in a purely barbaric sense. For these latter show by their base smugness and their narrow professional limitations that this is the right element for them: against which there is nothing to be said. Their comfort, however, does not counter-balance the suffering of one single young man who has an inclination for culture and feels the need of a guiding hand, and who at last, in a moment of discontent, throws down the reins and begins to despise himself. This is the guiltless innocent; for who has saddled him with the unbearable burden of standing alone? Who has urged him on to independence at an age when one of the most natural and peremptory needs of youth is, so to speak, a self-surrendering to great leaders and an enthusiastic following in the footsteps of the masters?

"It is repulsive to consider the effects to which the violent suppression of such noble natures may lead. He who surveys the greatest supporters and friends of that pseudo-culture of the present time, which I so greatly detest, will only too frequently find among them such degenerate and shipwrecked men of culture, driven by inward despair to violent enmity against culture, when, in a moment of desperation, there was no one at hand to show them how to attain it. It is not the worst and most insignificant people whom we afterwards find acting as journalists and writers for the press in the metamorphosis of despair: the spirit of some well-known men of letters might even be described, and justly, as degenerate studentdom. How else, for example, can we reconcile that once well-known 'young Germany' with its present degenerate successors? Here we discover a need of culture which, so to speak, has grown mutinous, and which finally breaks out into the passionate cry: I am culture! There, before the gates of the public schools and universities, we can see the culture which has been driven like a fugitive away from these institutions. True, this culture is without the erudition of those establishments, but assumes nevertheless the mien of a sovereign; so that, for example, Gutzkow the novelist might be pointed to as the best example of a modern public school boy turned aesthete. Such a degenerate man of culture is a serious matter, and it is a horrifying spectacle for us to see that all our scholarly and journalistic publicity bears the stigma of this degeneracy upon it. How else can we do justice to our learned men, who pay untiring attention to, and even co-operate in the journalistic corruption of the people, how else than by the acknowledgment that their learning must fill a want of their own similar to that filled by novel-writing in the case of others: i.e. a flight from one's self, an ascetic extirpation of their cultural impulses, a desperate attempt to annihilate their own individuality. From our degenerate literary art, as also from that itch for scribbling of our learned men which has now reached such alarming proportions, wells forth the same sigh: Oh that we could forget ourselves! The attempt fails: memory, not yet suffocated by the mountains of printed paper under which it is buried, keeps on repeating from time to time: 'A degenerate man of culture! Born for culture and brought up to non-culture! Helpless barbarian, slave of the day, chained to the present moment, and thirsting for something—ever thirsting!'

"Oh, the miserable guilty innocents! For they lack something, a need that every one of them must have felt: a real educational institution, which could give them goals, masters, methods, companions; and from the midst of which the invigorating and uplifting breath of the true German spirit would inspire them. Thus they perish in the wilderness; thus they degenerate into enemies of that spirit which is at bottom closely allied to their own; thus they pile fault upon fault higher than any former generation ever did, soiling the clean, desecrating the holy, canonising the false and spurious. It is by them that you can judge the educational strength of our universities, asking yourselves, in all seriousness, the question: What cause did you promote through them? The German power of invention, the noble German desire for knowledge, the qualifying of the German for diligence and self-sacrifice—splendid and beautiful things, which other nations envy you; yea, the finest and most magnificent things in the world, if only that true German spirit overspread them like a dark thundercloud, pregnant with the blessing of forthcoming rain. But you are afraid of this spirit, and it has therefore come to pass that a cloud of another sort has thrown a heavy and oppressive atmosphere around your universities, in which your noble-minded scholars breathe wearily and with difficulty.

"A tragic, earnest, and instructive attempt was made in the present century to destroy the cloud I have last referred to, and also to turn the people's looks in the direction of the high welkin of the German spirit. In all the annals of our universities we cannot find any trace of a second attempt, and he who would impressively demonstrate what is now necessary for us will never find a better example. I refer to the old, primitive Burschenschaft.[11]

"When the war of liberation was over, the young student brought back home the unlooked-for and worthiest trophy of battle—the freedom of his fatherland. Crowned with this laurel he thought of something still nobler. On returning to the university, and finding that he was breathing heavily, he became conscious of that oppressive and contaminated air which overhung the culture of the university. He suddenly saw, with horror-struck, wide-open eyes, the non-German barbarism, hiding itself in the guise of all kinds of scholasticism; he suddenly discovered that his own leaderless comrades were abandoned to a repulsive kind of youthful intoxication. And he was exasperated. He rose with the same aspect of proud indignation as Schiller may have had when reciting the Robbers to his companions: and if he had prefaced his drama with the picture of a lion, and the motto, 'in tyrannos,' his follower himself was that very lion preparing to spring; and every 'tyrant' began to tremble. Yes, if these indignant youths were looked at superficially and timorously, they would seem to be little else than Schiller's robbers: their talk sounded so wild to the anxious listener that Rome and Sparta seemed mere nunneries compared with these new spirits. The consternation raised by these young men was indeed far more general than had ever been caused by those other 'robbers' in court circles, of which a German prince, according to Goethe, is said to have expressed the opinion: 'If he had been God, and had foreseen the appearance of the Robbers, he would not have created the world.'

"Whence came the incomprehensible intensity of this alarm? For those young men were the bravest, purest, and most talented of the band both in dress and habits: they were distinguished by a magnanimous recklessness and a noble simplicity. A divine command bound them together to seek harder and more pious superiority: what could be feared from them? To what extent this fear was merely deceptive or simulated or really true is something that will probably never be exactly known; but a strong instinct spoke out of this fear and out of its disgraceful and senseless persecution. This instinct hated the Burschenschaft with an intense hatred for two reasons: first of all on account of its organisation, as being the first attempt to construct a true educational institution, and, secondly, on account of the spirit of this institution, that earnest, manly, stern, and daring German spirit; that spirit of the miner's son, Luther, which has come down to us unbroken from the time of the Reformation.

"Think of the fate of the Burschenschaft when I ask you, Did the German university then understand that spirit, as even the German princes in their hatred appear to have understood it? Did the alma mater boldly and resolutely throw her protecting arms round her noble sons and say: 'You must kill me first, before you touch my children?' I hear your answer—by it you may judge whether the German university is an educational institution or not.

"The student knew at that time at what depth a true educational institution must take root, namely, in an inward renovation and inspiration of the purest moral faculties. And this must always be repeated to the student's credit. He may have learnt on the field of battle what he could learn least of all in the sphere of 'academical freedom': that great leaders are necessary, and that all culture begins with obedience. And in the midst of victory, with his thoughts turned to his liberated fatherland, he made the vow that he would remain German. German! Now he learnt to understand his Tacitus; now he grasped the signification of Kant's categorical imperative; now he was enraptured by Weber's "Lyre and Sword" songs.[12] The gates of philosophy, of art, yea, even of antiquity, opened unto him; and in one of the most memorable of bloody acts, the murder of Kotzebue, he revenged—with penetrating insight and enthusiastic short-sightedness—his one and only Schiller, prematurely consumed by the opposition of the stupid world: Schiller, who could have been his leader, master, and organiser, and whose loss he now bewailed with such heartfelt resentment.

"For that was the doom of those promising students: they did not find the leaders they wanted. They gradually became uncertain, discontented, and at variance among themselves; unlucky indiscretions showed only too soon that the one indispensability of powerful minds was lacking in the midst of them: and, while that mysterious murder gave evidence of astonishing strength, it gave no less evidence of the grave danger arising from the want of a leader. They were leaderless—therefore they perished.

"For I repeat it, my friends! All culture begins with the very opposite of that which is now so highly esteemed as 'academical freedom': with obedience, with subordination, with discipline, with subjection. And as leaders must have followers so also must the followers have a leader—here a certain reciprocal predisposition prevails in the hierarchy of spirits: yea, a kind of pre-established harmony. This eternal hierarchy, towards which all things naturally tend, is always threatened by that pseudo-culture which now sits on the throne of the present. It endeavours either to bring the leaders down to the level of its own servitude or else to cast them out altogether. It seduces the followers when they are seeking their predestined leader, and overcomes them by the fumes of its narcotics. When, however, in spite of all this, leader and followers have at last met, wounded and sore, there is an impassioned feeling of rapture, like the echo of an ever-sounding lyre, a feeling which I can let you divine only by means of a simile.

"Have you ever, at a musical rehearsal, looked at the strange, shrivelled-up, good-natured species of men who usually form the German orchestra? What changes and fluctuations we see in that capricious goddess 'form'! What noses and ears, what clumsy, danse macabre movements! Just imagine for a moment that you were deaf, and had never dreamed of the existence of sound or music, and that you were looking upon the orchestra as a company of actors, and trying to enjoy their performance as a drama and nothing more. Undisturbed by the idealising effect of the sound, you could never see enough of the stern, medieval, wood-cutting movement of this comical spectacle, this harmonious parody on the homo sapiens.

"Now, on the other hand, assume that your musical sense has returned, and that your ears are opened. Look at the honest conductor at the head of the orchestra performing his duties in a dull, spiritless fashion: you no longer think of the comical aspect of the whole scene, you listen—but it seems to you that the spirit of tediousness spreads out from the honest conductor over all his companions. Now you see only torpidity and flabbiness, you hear only the trivial, the rhythmically inaccurate, and the melodiously trite. You see the orchestra only as an indifferent, ill-humoured, and even wearisome crowd of players.

"But set a genius—a real genius—in the midst of this crowd; and you instantly perceive something almost incredible. It is as if this genius, in his lightning transmigration, had entered into these mechanical, lifeless bodies, and as if only one demoniacal eye gleamed forth out of them all. Now look and listen—you can never listen enough! When you again observe the orchestra, now loftily storming, now fervently wailing, when you notice the quick tightening of every muscle and the rhythmical necessity of every gesture, then you too will feel what a pre-established harmony there is between leader and followers, and how in the hierarchy of spirits everything impels us towards the establishment of a like organisation. You can divine from my simile what I would understand by a true educational institution, and why I am very far from recognising one in the present type of university."

[From a few MS. notes written down by Nietzsche in the spring and autumn of 1872, and still preserved in the Nietzsche Archives at Weimar, it is evident that he at one time intended to add a sixth and seventh lecture to the five just given. These notes, although included in the latest edition of Nietzsche's works, are utterly lacking in interest and continuity, being merely headings and sub-headings of sections in the proposed lectures. They do not, indeed, occupy more than two printed pages, and were deemed too fragmentary for translation in this edition.]


[9] The reader may be reminded that a German university student is subject to very few restrictions, and that much greater liberty is allowed him than is permitted to English students. Nietzsche did not approve of this extraordinary freedom, which, in his opinion, led to intellectual lawlessness.—TR.

[10] Hegel's.—TR.

[11] A German students' association, of liberal principles, founded for patriotic purposes at Jena in 1813.

[12] Weber set one or two of Koerner's "Lyre and Sword" songs to music. The reader will remember that these lectures were delivered when Nietzsche was only in his twenty-eighth year. Like Goethe, he afterwards freed himself from all patriotic trammels and prejudices, and aimed at a general European culture. Luther, Schiller, Kant, Koerner, and Weber did not continue to be the objects of his veneration for long, indeed, they were afterwards violently attacked by him, and the superficial student who speaks of inconsistency may be reminded of Nietzsche's phrase in stanza 12 of the epilogue to Beyond Good and Evil: "Nur wer sich wandelt, bleibt mit mir verwandt"; i.e. only the changing ones have anything in common with me.—TR.

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- Typographical errors corrected in text: Page 124: neigbourhood replaced with neighbourhood Page 130: universites replaced by universities -

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