On the Future of our Educational Institutions - Homer and Classical Philology

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"Oh, the miserable guilty innocents! For they lack something, a need that every one of them must have felt: a real educational institution, which could give them goals, masters, methods, companions; and from the midst of which the invigorating and [Pg 136]uplifting breath of the true German spirit would inspire them. Thus they perish in the wilderness; thus they degenerate into enemies of that spirit which is at bottom closely allied to their own; thus they pile fault upon fault higher than any former generation ever did, soiling the clean, desecrating the holy, canonising the false and spurious. It is by them that you can judge the educational strength of our universities, asking yourselves, in all seriousness, the question: What cause did you promote through them? The German power of invention, the noble German desire for knowledge, the qualifying of the German for diligence and self-sacrifice—splendid and beautiful things, which other nations envy you; yea, the finest and most magnificent things in the world, if only that true German spirit overspread them like a dark thundercloud, pregnant with the blessing of forthcoming rain. But you are afraid of this spirit, and it has therefore come to pass that a cloud of another sort has thrown a heavy and oppressive atmosphere around your universities, in which your noble-minded scholars breathe wearily and with difficulty.

"A tragic, earnest, and instructive attempt was made in the present century to destroy the cloud I have last referred to, and also to turn the people's looks in the direction of the high welkin of the German spirit. In all the annals of our universities we cannot find any trace of a second attempt, and he who would impressively demonstrate what is now necessary for us will never find a better [Pg 137]example. I refer to the old, primitive Burschenschaft.[11]

"When the war of liberation was over, the young student brought back home the unlooked-for and worthiest trophy of battle—the freedom of his fatherland. Crowned with this laurel he thought of something still nobler. On returning to the university, and finding that he was breathing heavily, he became conscious of that oppressive and contaminated air which overhung the culture of the university. He suddenly saw, with horror-struck, wide-open eyes, the non-German barbarism, hiding itself in the guise of all kinds of scholasticism; he suddenly discovered that his own leaderless comrades were abandoned to a repulsive kind of youthful intoxication. And he was exasperated. He rose with the same aspect of proud indignation as Schiller may have had when reciting the Robbers to his companions: and if he had prefaced his drama with the picture of a lion, and the motto, 'in tyrannos,' his follower himself was that very lion preparing to spring; and every 'tyrant' began to tremble. Yes, if these indignant youths were looked at superficially and timorously, they would seem to be little else than Schiller's robbers: their talk sounded so wild to the anxious listener that Rome and Sparta seemed mere nunneries compared with these new spirits. The consternation raised by these young men was indeed far more general than had ever been [Pg 138]caused by those other 'robbers' in court circles, of which a German prince, according to Goethe, is said to have expressed the opinion: 'If he had been God, and had foreseen the appearance of the Robbers, he would not have created the world.'

"Whence came the incomprehensible intensity of this alarm? For those young men were the bravest, purest, and most talented of the band both in dress and habits: they were distinguished by a magnanimous recklessness and a noble simplicity. A divine command bound them together to seek harder and more pious superiority: what could be feared from them? To what extent this fear was merely deceptive or simulated or really true is something that will probably never be exactly known; but a strong instinct spoke out of this fear and out of its disgraceful and senseless persecution. This instinct hated the Burschenschaft with an intense hatred for two reasons: first of all on account of its organisation, as being the first attempt to construct a true educational institution, and, secondly, on account of the spirit of this institution, that earnest, manly, stern, and daring German spirit; that spirit of the miner's son, Luther, which has come down to us unbroken from the time of the Reformation.

"Think of the fate of the Burschenschaft when I ask you, Did the German university then understand that spirit, as even the German princes in their hatred appear to have understood it? Did the alma mater boldly and resolutely throw her protecting arms round her noble sons and say: 'You [Pg 139]must kill me first, before you touch my children?' I hear your answer—by it you may judge whether the German university is an educational institution or not.

"The student knew at that time at what depth a true educational institution must take root, namely, in an inward renovation and inspiration of the purest moral faculties. And this must always be repeated to the student's credit. He may have learnt on the field of battle what he could learn least of all in the sphere of 'academical freedom': that great leaders are necessary, and that all culture begins with obedience. And in the midst of victory, with his thoughts turned to his liberated fatherland, he made the vow that he would remain German. German! Now he learnt to understand his Tacitus; now he grasped the signification of Kant's categorical imperative; now he was enraptured by Weber's "Lyre and Sword" songs.[12] The gates of philosophy, of art, yea, even of antiquity, opened unto him; and in one of the most memorable [Pg 140]of bloody acts, the murder of Kotzebue, he revenged—with penetrating insight and enthusiastic short-sightedness—his one and only Schiller, prematurely consumed by the opposition of the stupid world: Schiller, who could have been his leader, master, and organiser, and whose loss he now bewailed with such heartfelt resentment.

"For that was the doom of those promising students: they did not find the leaders they wanted. They gradually became uncertain, discontented, and at variance among themselves; unlucky indiscretions showed only too soon that the one indispensability of powerful minds was lacking in the midst of them: and, while that mysterious murder gave evidence of astonishing strength, it gave no less evidence of the grave danger arising from the want of a leader. They were leaderless—therefore they perished.

"For I repeat it, my friends! All culture begins with the very opposite of that which is now so highly esteemed as 'academical freedom': with obedience, with subordination, with discipline, with subjection. And as leaders must have followers so also must the followers have a leader—here a certain reciprocal predisposition prevails in the hierarchy of spirits: yea, a kind of pre-established harmony. This eternal hierarchy, towards which all things naturally tend, is always threatened by that pseudo-culture which now sits on the throne of the present. It endeavours either to bring the leaders down to the level of its own servitude or else to cast them out altogether. It seduces the followers when they are seeking their predestined leader, and overcomes [Pg 141]them by the fumes of its narcotics. When, however, in spite of all this, leader and followers have at last met, wounded and sore, there is an impassioned feeling of rapture, like the echo of an ever-sounding lyre, a feeling which I can let you divine only by means of a simile.

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