Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 35 of 70


What Remains of Art.—It is true that art has a much greater value in the case of certain metaphysical hypotheses, for instance when the belief obtains that the character is unchangeable and that the essence of the world manifests itself continually in all character and action; thus the artist's work becomes the symbol of the eternally constant, while according to our views the artist can only endow his picture with temporary value, because man on the whole has developed and is mutable, and even the individual man has nothing fixed and constant. The same thing holds good with another metaphysical hypothesis: assuming that our visible world were only a delusion, as metaphysicians declare, then art would come very[Pg 205] near to the real world, for there would then be far too much similarity between the world of appearance and the dream-world of the artist; and the remaining difference would place the meaning of art higher even than the meaning of nature, because art would represent the same forms, the types and models of nature. But those suppositions are false; and what position does art retain after this acknowledgment? Above all, for centuries it has taught us to look upon life in every shape with interest and pleasure and to carry our feelings so far that at last we exclaim, "Whatever it may be, life is good." This teaching of art, to take pleasure in existence and to regard human life as a piece of nature, without too vigorous movement, as an object of regular development,—this teaching has grown into us; it reappears as an all-powerful need of knowledge. We could renounce art, but we should not therewith forfeit the ability it has taught us,—just as we have given up religion, but not the exalting and intensifying of temperament acquired through religion. As the plastic arts and music are the standards of that wealth of feeling really acquired and obtained through religion, so also, after a disappearance of art, the intensity and multiplicity of the joys of life which it had implanted in us would still demand satisfaction. The scientific man is the further development of the artistic man.


The After-glow of Art.—Just as in old age we remember our youth and celebrate festivals[Pg 206] of memory, so in a short time mankind will stand towards art: its relation will be that of a touching memory of the joys of youth. Never, perhaps, in former ages was art dealt with so seriously and thoughtfully as now when it appears to be surrounded by the magic influence of death. We call to mind that Greek city in southern Italy, which once a year still celebrates its Greek feasts, amidst tears and mourning, that foreign barbarism triumphs ever more and more over the customs its people brought with them into the land; and never has Hellenism been so much appreciated, nowhere has this golden nectar been drunk with so great delight, as amongst these fast disappearing Hellenes. The artist will soon come to be regarded as a splendid relic, and to him, as to a wonderful stranger on whose power and beauty depended the happiness of former ages, there will be paid such honour as is not often enjoyed by one of our race. The best in us is perhaps inherited from the sentiments of former times, to which it is hardly possible for us now to return by direct ways; the sun has already disappeared, but the heavens of our life are still glowing and illumined by it, although we can behold it no longer.

[1] The allusion is to Goethe's lines:

Die Sterne, die begehrt man nicht,
Man freut sich ihrer Pracht.

We do not want the stars themselves,
Their brilliancy delights our hearts.—J.M.K.

[Pg 207]




Ennoblement Through Degeneration.—History teaches that a race of people is best preserved where the greater number hold one common spirit in consequence of the similarity of their accustomed and indisputable principles: in consequence, therefore, of their common faith. Thus strength is afforded by good and thorough customs, thus is learnt the subjection of the individual, and strenuousness of character becomes a birth gift and afterwards is fostered as a habit. The danger to these communities founded on individuals of strong and similar character is that gradually increasing stupidity through transmission, which follows all stability like its shadow. It is on the more unrestricted, more uncertain and morally weaker individuals that depends the intellectual progress of such communities, it is they who attempt all that is new and manifold. Numbers of these perish on account of their weakness, without having achieved any specially visible effect; but generally, particularly when they have descendants, they flare up and from[Pg 208] time to time inflict a wound on the stable element of the community. Precisely in this sore and weakened place the community is inoculated with something new; but its general strength must be great enough to absorb and assimilate this new thing into its blood. Deviating natures are of the utmost importance wherever there is to be progress. Every wholesale progress must be preceded by a partial weakening. The strongest natures retain the type, the weaker ones help it to develop. Something similar happens in the case of individuals;'a deterioration, a mutilation, even a vice and, above all, a physical or moral loss is seldom without its advantage. For instance, a sickly man in the midst of a warlike and restless race will perhaps have more chance of being alone and thereby growing quieter and wiser, the one-eyed man will possess a stronger eye, the blind man will have a deeper inward sight and will certainly have a keener sense of hearing. In so far it appears to me that the famous Struggle for Existence is not the only point of view from which an explanation can be given of the progress or strengthening of an individual or a race. Rather must two different things converge: firstly, the multiplying of stable strength through mental binding in faith and common feeling; secondly, the possibility of attaining to higher aims, through the fact that there are deviating natures and, in consequence, partial weakening and wounding of the stable strength; it is precisely the weaker nature, as the more delicate and free, that makes all progress[Pg 209] at all possible. A people that is crumbling and weak in any one part, but as a whole still strong and healthy, is able to absorb the infection of what is new and incorporate it to its advantage. The task of education in a single individual is this: to plant him so firmly and surely that, as a whole, he can no longer be diverted from his path. Then, however, the educator must wound him, or else make use of the wounds which fate inflicts, and when pain and need have thus arisen, something new and noble can be inoculated into the wounded places. With regard to the State, Machiavelli says that, "the form of Government is of very small importance, although halfeducated people think otherwise. The great aim of State-craft should be duration, which out-weighs all else, inasmuch as it is more valuable than liberty." It is only with securely founded and guaranteed duration that continual development and ennobling inoculation are at all possible. As a rule, however, authority, the dangerous companion of all duration, will rise in opposition to this.

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