Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 39 of 70

[Pg 227]


In the Neighbourhood of Insanity.—The sum of sensations, knowledge and experiences, the whole burden of culture, therefore, has become so great that an overstraining of nerves and powers of thought is a common danger, indeed the cultivated classes of European countries are throughout neurotic, and almost every one of their great families is on the verge of insanity in one of their branches. True, health is now sought in every possible way; but in the main a diminution of that tension of feeling, of that oppressive burden of culture, is needful, which, even though it might be bought at a heavy sacrifice, would at least give us room for the great hope of a new Renaissance. To Christianity, to the philosophers, poets, and musicians we owe an abundance of deeply emotional sensations; in order that these may not get beyond our control we must invoke the spirit of science, which on the whole makes us somewhat colder and more sceptical, and in particular cools the faith in final and absolute truths; it is chiefly through Christianity that it has grown so wild.


The Bell-founding of Culture.—Culture has been made like a bell, within a covering of coarser, commoner material, falsehood, violence, the boundless extension of every individual "I,"[Pg 228] of every separate people—this was the covering. Is it time to take it off? Has the liquid set, have the good and useful impulses, the habits of the nobler nature become so certain and so general that they no longer require to lean on metaphysics and the errors of religion, no longer have need of hardnesses and violence as powerful bonds between man and man, people and people? No sign from any God can any longer help us to answer this question; our own insight must decide. The earthly rule of man must be taken in hand by man himself, his "omniscience" must watch over the further fate of culture with a sharp eye.


The Cyclopes of Culture.—Whoever has seen those furrowed basins which once contained glaciers, will hardly deem it possible that a time will come when the same spot will be a valley of woods and meadows and streams. It is the same in the history of mankind; the wildest forces break the way, destructively at first, but their activity was nevertheless necessary in order that later on a milder civilisation might build up its house These terrible energies—that which is called Evil—are the cyclopic architects and road-makers of humanity.


The Circulation of Humanity.—It is possible that all humanity is only a phase of[Pg 229] development of a certain species of animal of limited duration. Man may have grown out of the ape and will return to the ape again,[1] without anybody taking an interest in the ending of this curious comedy. Just as with the decline of Roman civilisation and its most important cause, the spread of Christianity, there was a general uglification of man within the Roman Empire, so, through the eventual decline of general culture, there might result a far greater uglification and finally an animalising of man till he reached the ape. But just because we are able to face this prospect, we shall perhaps be able to avert such an end.


The Consoling Speech of a Desperate Advance.—Our age gives the impression of an intermediate condition; the old ways of regarding the world, the old cultures still partially exist, the new are not yet sure and customary and hence are without decision and consistency. It appears as if everything would become chaotic, as if the old were being lost, the new worthless and ever becoming weaker. But this is what the soldier feels who is learning to march; for a time he is more uncertain and awkward, because his muscles are moved sometimes according to the old system and sometimes according to the new, and neither gains a' decisive victory. We waver,[Pg 230] but it is necessary not to lose courage and give up what we have newly gained. Moreover, we cannot go back to the old, we have burnt our boats; there remains nothing but to be brave whatever happen.—March ahead, only get forward! Perhaps our behaviour looks like progress; but if not, then the words of Frederick the Great may also be applied to us, and indeed as a consolation: "Ah, mon cher Sulzer, vous ne connaissez pas assez cette race maudite, laquelle nous appartenons."


Suffering from Past Culture.—Whoever has solved the problem of culture suffers from a feeling similar to that of one who has inherited unjustly-gotten riches, or of a prince who reigns thanks to the violence of his ancestors. He thinks of their origin with grief and is often ashamed, often irritable. The whole sum of strength, joy, vigour, which he devotes to his possessions, is often balanced by a deep weariness, he cannot forget their origin. He looks despondingly at the future; he knows well that his successors will suffer from the past as he does.


Manners.—Good manners disappear in proportion as the influence of a Court and an exclusive aristocracy lessens; this decrease can be plainly observed from decade to decade by those who have an eye for public behaviour, which grows visibly[Pg 231] more vulgar. No one any longer knows how to court and flatter intelligently; hence arises the ludicrous fact that in cases where we must render actual homage (to a great statesman or artist, for instance), the words of deepest feeling, of simple, peasant-like honesty, have to be borrowed, owing to the embarrassment resulting from the lack of grace and wit. Thus the public ceremonious meeting of men appears ever more clumsy, but more full of feeling and honesty without really being so. But must there always be a decline in manners? It appears to me, rather, that manners take a deep curve and that we are approaching their lowest point. When society has become sure of its intentions and principles, so that they have a moulding effect (the manners we have learnt from former moulding conditions are now inherited and always more weakly learnt), there will then be company manners, gestures and social expressions, which must appear as necessary and simply natural because they are intentions and principles. The better division of time and work, the gymnastic exercise transformed into the accompaniment of all beautiful leisure, increased and severer meditation, which brings wisdom and suppleness even to the body, will bring all this in its train. Here, indeed, we might think with a smile of our scholars, and consider whether, as a matter of fact, they who wish to be regarded as the forerunners of that new culture are distinguished by their better manners? This is hardly the case; although their spirit may be willing enough their flesh is weak. The past of culture is still too[Pg 232] powerful in their muscles, they still stand in a fettered position, and are half worldly priests and half dependent educators of the upper classes, and besides this they have been rendered crippled and lifeless by the pedantry of science and by antiquated, spiritless methods. In any case, therefore, they are physically, and often three-fourths mentally, still the courtiers of an old, even antiquated culture, and as such are themselves antiquated; the new spirit that occasionally inhabits these old dwellings often serves only to make them more uncertain and frightened. In them there dwell the ghosts of the past as well as the ghosts of the future; what wonder if they do not wear the best expression or show the most pleasing behaviour?

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