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)
Themes: History, Modernity and Self-consciousness
Genres: Aphoristic, Critical, Sermon or Jeremiad, Tract or Treatise