Nietzsche - Brobjer - Nietzsche's Relation to Historical Methods

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<p>History and Theory 46 (May 2007), 155-179</p> <p> Wesleyan University 2007 ISSN: 0018-2656</p> <p>NIetzScheS RelatIoN to hIStoRIcal MethodS aNd NINeteeNth-ceNtURy GeRMaN hIStoRIoGRaphythoMaS h. BRoBjeRaBStRact</p> <p>Nietzsche is generally regarded as a severe critic of historical method and scholarship; this view has influenced much of contemporary discussions about the role and nature of historical scholarship. In this article I argue that this view is seriously mistaken (to a large degree because of the somewhat misleading nature of Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie fr das Leben). I do so by examining what he actually says about understanding history and historical method, as well as his relation to the founders of modern German historiography (Wolf, Niebuhr, Ranke, and Mommsen). I show, contrary to most expectations, that Nietzsche knew these historians well and that he fundamentally affirmed their view of historical method. What he primarily objected to among his contemporaries was that historical scholarship was often regarded as a goal in itself, rather than as a means, and consequently that history was placed above philosophy. In fact, a historical approach was essential for Nietzsches whole understanding of philosophy, and his own philosophical project.</p> <p>What would one expect Nietzsches relation to and evaluation of German nineteenth-century historiography to have been? I believe that there is a general expectation that it was rather superficial and that his evaluation of the leading historians was rather negative, based among others on statements such as The so-called objective writing of history is something unthinkable: the objective historians are crushed or smug characters,1 and many similar claims in Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie fr das Leben.2 In fact, Nietzsche is frequently. KSA 7, 29 [37] (summerautumn 873): Die objectiv genannte Geschichtsschreibung ist ein Ungedanke: die objectiven Historiker sind vernichtete oder blasirte Persnlichkeiten.. KSA is the conventional abbreviation for Friedrich Nietzsche: Kritische Studienausgabe, ed. G. colli and M. Montinari, 5 vols. [967] (Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 980). Volume 4 is a commentary volume. KSB is the abbreviation for the corresponding eight volumes of Nietzsches letters, by the same editors. These letters have not been translated into English (except a small selection by Middleton; see below). I refer to Nietzsches letters by recipient and date, which means that they can easily be identified since they are published in chronological order in KSB. KSA does not contain Nietzsches writings before he became a professor in Basel in 869. These have been published in Friedrich Nietzsche: Frhe Schriften, 5 vols. [933940] (Munich: C. H. Beck Verlag, 994), abbreviated BAW (followed by volume and page numbers). These early writings are now also slowly being published in the bound edition KGW, section I (i.e., Friedrich Nietzsche: Kritische Gesamtausgabe, also edited by G. Colli and M. Montinari). A concordance between the pages of the KSA volumes and the KGW volumes is included in KSA 5. However, since the identifying numbers, e.g., 5 [7], are the same in both versions, it is generally easy to find any KSA-reference also in KGW. The translations from Nietzsches notes and letters are my own unless otherwise stated. 2. Statements such as historische Krankheit, historische Fieber, das berschwemmende,</p> <p>156</p> <p>thoMaS h. BRoBjeR</p> <p>regarded as one of the foremost critics and opponents of the historical methods and approaches that were introduced in the nineteenth century. Georg Iggers, for example, claims that Nietzsche denied the possibility as well as the utility of historical research and scholarly historiography. this sort of interpretation is based mainly on his early essay Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie fr das Leben (The Use and Abuse of History for Life) (874), the only work in which he extensively discusses historical scholarship. I have recently argued that Nietzsches view in this essay is not representative of his general view of historythat he rejected it shortly after having published the essayand therefore in this paper, I will not, contrary to most discussions of his relation to history, concentrate on this essay, but on his more general view of history before and after that time.4 I will attempt to show that contrary to the above-mentioned views and expectations, Nietzsche knew the major historians well (some of them even personally), that his reading and knowledge of them was profound, that he was deeply influenced by them, and that in the most important ways, including regarding method, his view of them was positive. I will also attempt to show that an awareness of this has important consequences for our view and interpretation of Nietzsches relation to historical knowledge, research, and writing. The nineteenth century was the historical century above anything else, and history became the science above all others. Everything was treated historically, and history and classical philology achieved enormous status and became primary in education and at schools. History was for the first time placed above philosophy. This historical bent had its focus and major developments in Germany.5betubende und gewaltsame Historisieren, and das Zgellos umschweifende Geschichts-Unwesen, all of them from Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie fr das Leben (Leipzig: Verlag von E. W. Fritzsch, 874). . Georg G. Iggers, Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Challenge (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 997), 8. Iggers continues: He believed not only that the object of research was determined by the interests and biases of the historian but that the conviction on which occidental thinking since Socrates and Plato has been based, namely that there is an objective truth not tied to the subjectivity of the thinker, was untenable. . . . Thus he denied the priority of logical, for example Socratic, over prelogical, that is mythical or poetic, thinking. I will show below that this gives a very misleading picture of Nietzsches view of history. 4. Thomas H. Brobjer, Nietzsches View of the Value of Historical Studies and Methods, Journal of the History of Ideas 65 (2004), 01-22. In this article, I show that not only does Nietzsche have a different view of history and historical scholarship after 875876, which is clearly visible in his next book, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (see the text below), but also that on many occasions he explicitly rejected the view he proposed in Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie fr das Leben. For example, in 877 he writes: I want expressly to inform the readers of my earlier writings [i.e., The Birth of Tragedy and the Untimely Meditations] that I have abandoned the metaphysicalartistic views that fundamentally govern them: they are pleasant but untenable; the following year he characterizes the second Untimely Meditation with the words: An attempt to close the eyes against the knowledge we get through history; he frequently refers to it as, in the negative sense, a work of youth, and in 883 Behind my first period grins the face of Jesuitism: I mean the deliberate holding on to illusion and the forcible annexation of illusion as the foundation of culture. (In the above cited paper, I give many further examples of Nietzsches expression of critique of and distance from this work.) Furthermore, Nietzsche very rarely discusses or praises his essay on history after 875, in stark contrast to all of his other books, and, after 874, he never used the several concepts and expressions, such as monumental, antiquarian, and critical history, or overhistorical, which he coined and used in this book. 5. In Germany, the nineteenth century was frequently called das historische Jahrhundert in contrast to the philosophische eighteenth century. See Historisches Wrterbuch der Philosophie, ed.</p> <p>NIetzScheS RelatIoN to hIStoRIcal MethodS</p> <p>157</p> <p>Although this development has a prehistory, it is with Friedrich August Wolf, Barthold Georg Niebuhr, Leopold von Ranke, and Theodor Mommsen that this new development breaks through and becomes established. They were the Galileos and Newtons in the field of historyor as Nietzsche called them 6 collectively (without naming them), the new Columbus of the German spirit. Their work was paralleled on a more philosophical level by Herder and Hegel. In some ways it is difficult for us today to grasp this revolution in historiography and the change of paradigm that then occurred, for we have all accepted the new historical methods and views that were then established. These new methods include critique of sources (that is, determining genuineness and credibility of sources), textual criticism (that is, establishing internal and external consistency and credibility), and historical interpretation. Furthermore, these methods were based on an awareness of cultural evolution, and on an independence from ecclesiastical tradition and contemporary views and values (and the conscious attempts to avoid anachronisms that this independence implied). Before Wolf, Niebuhr, and this revolution in historiography, one generally read historical authors and sources almost as one read the Bible, as dogma. In this paper I examine three aspects of Nietzsches thinking related to history, of which the latter two seem not to have been addressed before. I will begin by discussing and briefly summarizing Nietzsches general and philosophical approach and relation to historical scholarship and method. I will show that historical approaches are central to his whole philosophical production, at least all of it produced after 876. Second, I will attempt to give an explanation of why his relation to history has been misunderstood, or has been regarded as ambivalent and obscure, by many commentators. This has two primary causes. One is the misleading nature of his essay Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie fr das Leben, and the other is that he valued historical method and scholarship as a precondition of culture (and of cultural discussions and diagnosis), but objected to them as the goal of culture. Then I will examine Nietzsches explicit discussion of historical methods, primarily in his lecture notes, and show that on the whole he affirmed them. Third, I discuss his relation to the founders of the historical method and the major German historians, and again show that this reflects an appreciation of historical scholarship and method, with a few exceptions.I. NIetzScheS GeNeRal RelatIoN to hIStoRy</p> <p>Nietzsche was well aware that a revolution in historical scholarship and a corresponding shift of paradigms had occurred, accepted it as valuable and important, and was well educated and versed in these new methods and skillful at using them, as we can see in his philological work; it was largely because he skillfully mastered the historical and philological methods that he was appointed professor by the age of 24. Much of his critique of contemporary historical scholarship and historians was that it was badly done history and that it was often determined by contemporary political and religious views and values. However, hejoachim Ritter et al., 2 vols. (Basel: Schwabe, 97), III, Geschichte,, 367. 6. KSA , 37 [8] (JuneJuly 885). This text, with context, is quoted below.</p> <p>158</p> <p>thoMaS h. BRoBjeR</p> <p>also leveled a fundamental critique at the tendency to view everything historically and at history being placed above philosophy. Nietzsches general awareness and appraisal of developments in historiography can be seen on many occasions. For example, in Menschliches, Allzumenschliches, 270 he writes:The art of reading. . . . Production and preservation of texts, together with their elucidation, pursued in a guild for centuries, has now finally discovered the correct methods . . . to have discovered these methods was an achievement, let no one undervalue it! It was only when the art of correct reading, that is to say philology, arrived at its summit that scholarship of any kind acquired continuity and constancy.</p> <p>In Der Antichrist he similarly emphasizes the enormous value that the Greeks and Romans bestowed on mankind by learning to read methodically, that is, to see the world as it is, which was lost during the Middle Ages:The whole labour of the ancient world in vain: I have no word to express my feelings at something so dreadful. . . . Every prerequisite for an erudite culture, all the scholarly methods were already there, the great, the incomparable art of reading well had already been establishedthe prerequisite for a cultural tradition . . .the sense for facts, the last developed and most valuable of all the senses, had its schools and its tradition already centuries old! Is this understood? Everything essential for setting to work had been devisedmethods, one must repeat ten times, are the essential, as well as being the most difficult, as well as being that which has habit and laziness against it longest.7</p> <p>Already in the first section of Menschliches, Allzumenschliches (1878) he contrasts metaphysical philosophy (which he had previously affirmed), with its belief in opposites, to historical philosophy (which he now affirms), the youngest of all philosophical methods, which claims that there are no such opposites but everywhere only gradual change. In the second section he claims thatA lack of historical sensibility is the original failing of all philosophers. . . . Everything, however, has come to be; there are no eternal facts: just as there are no absolute truths. From now on therefore, historical philosophizing will be necessary, and along with it the virtue of modesty.</p> <p>In 879 he praised and congratulated both Paul Re and Overbeck for becoming more historical.8 After having retired from his university position, and hence no longer with easy access to international journals, he asked his sister in a letter of 2 April 880 to inform him if she encountered recommendations of historical or philosophical books in the journal Revue des deux mondesindicating the two fields in which he was most interested. In a note from the summer of 885, he explicitly states that the development of history was made by German historians: The German scholars by whom the sense of history was discoverednow the French are exercising this spirit.9 In an earlier note he emphasizes the fundamental importance of this new development in history: Let us assume that a good physician came to a primitive people . . . , how superior would he not be in7. The Antichrist, transl. R. J. Hollingdale (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 968), 59. Compare also sections 1, 26, 47, and 52. 8. In letters to them, end of July 879 and 27 August 879, respectively. 9. KSA , 37 [3]: Die deutschen Gelehrten, bei denen der historische Sinn erfunden worden ist, jetzt ben sich die Franzosen auf ihn ein.</p> <p>NIetzScheS RelatIoN to...</p>