In the LA Review of Books, Mimi Howard reviews Anti-Education, a newly translated compilation of lectures on education delivered by a youthful Nietzsche in 1872. In the lectures, Nietzsche critiques the Prussian school system's shift from humanities education to vocational training. The editors of Anti-Education in turn use this critique to suggest that Nietzsche can be marshaled to defend the humanities today, when they are losing ground to more immediately profitable fields of study like economics and engineering. Howard argues, however, that Nietzsche is too protean to be recruited for such a cause. Here's an excerpt:
Nietzsche was self-declaredly difficult to define. He resisted the synthetic and the systematic, the whole and programmatic — all things Hegelian and the Socratic. He sought to leave the contradictions unsolved. But particularly in America, Nietzsche has been made to mean certain things at certain moments; his thought has been leveraged according to varying agendas and aims: anarchist, socialist, and neoconservativist alike. Here, now, the publication takes great pains to unleash a progressive and liberal Nietzscheanism, to wield it against the education institutions of our time. The aristocratic and anti-democratic elements, Nietzsche’s unsavory bits, have been elided in order to provide an occasion to reflect on our own situation — to treat him presciently. What gets ignored is that these lectures also provide an occasion to reflect on the proto-fascistic tendencies of Nietzsche’s thought: the emphasis on the renewal of the German spirit, the effort to create a connection between the Germanic and Classic, the latent authoritarianism lying behind the struggle to found a cult of genius — all of these things would, too, be unleashed and wielded on behalf of National Socialism not a century after the lectures took place. But this book, insofar as it can be said to have some bearing on the current situation, at least lends us a picture of what it looks like when disparate pedagogical tendencies get trapped together in a remote clearing. That is to say, it gives us an idea of just how far removed these conversations about the institution are from the institutions themselves.
Image of Nietzsche via sydneydemocracynetwork.org.