On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life (First published in Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen, 1874, and reprinted in Untimely Meditations, 1997, ed. Daniel Breazeale and trans. R.J. Hollingdale)


by Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900)

Germany’s first modern essayist attacks his culture’s ‘oversaturation’ in historicism and Hegel in a ‘treatise’ of engaging playfulness – for example, the comparison of this problem to a Little-Prince-ish snake getting indigestion from a whole rabbit.

A conversation with an amnesiac cow starts Part 1, arguing that progress requires ahistorical forgetfulness. Parts 2 and 3 set out Nietzsche’s influential distinction between ‘monumental’, ‘antiquarian’ and ‘critical’ histories. A fourth category of ‘naïve historians’ (neo-Hegelians) is later developed. The final, slightly less sprightly, parts deal with educational reform and cultural renewal; they remain pertinent, setting aside Nietzsche’s dangerous comments on race and nation.

Related recommendation: ‘The Advantages and Disadvantages of an Individualistic Philosophy’ by Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India(1946); Kleist’s ‘On Marionette Theatre’ (1810); Alexander Herzen’s‘Dilettantism in Science’ (1843)

Origin: Germany

Themes: History, Modernity and Self-consciousness

Genres: Aphoristic, Critical, Sermon or Jeremiad, Tract or Treatise

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