GHDI logo

Friedrich Nietzsche on Germany’s Victory over France and the "Cultural Philistine": Untimely Meditations (1873-76)

page 3 of 3    print version    return to list previous document      next document

Such an assertion seems completely incomprehensible: all impartial judges, and finally the French themselves, have seen Germany’s decisive advantage to have lain in the more extensive knowledge possessed by its officers, in the superior training of its troops, and in the greater science of its conduct of the war. In what sense, then, can German culture be said to have triumphed, if one thinks to deduct from it German erudition? In no sense: for the moral qualities of stricter discipline and readier obedience have nothing to do with culture – though they distinguished the Macedonian soldiery from the Greek, for example, the latter were incomparably more cultured. It can only be the result of confusion if one speaks of the victory of German culture, a confusion originating in the fact that in Germany there no longer exists any clear conception of what culture is.

Culture is, above all, unity of artistic style in all the expressions of the life of a people. Much knowledge and learning is neither an essential means to culture nor a sign of it, and if needs be can get along very well with the opposite of culture, barbarism, which is lack of style or a chaotic jumble of all styles.

It is in such a chaotic jumble of styles that the German of our day dwells: and one seriously wonders how, with all his erudition, he can possibly fail to notice it, but, on the contrary, rejoices from the very heart at the ‘culture’ he at present possesses. For everything ought to instruct him: every glance he casts at his clothes, his room, his home, every walk he takes through the streets of his town, every visit he pays to a fashionable shop; in his social life he ought to be aware of the origin of his manners and deportment, in the world of our artistic institutions, of our concerts, theatres and museums, he ought to notice the grotesque juxtaposition and confusion of different styles. The German amasses around him the forms and colours, productions and curiosities of every age and every clime, and produces that modern fairground motley which his learned colleagues are then obliged to observe and classify as the ‘modern as such’, while he himself remains seated calmly in the midst of the tumult. But with this kind of ‘culture’, which is in fact only a phlegmatic lack of all feeling for culture, one cannot overcome enemies, least of all those who, like the French, actually possess a real and productive culture, regardless of what its value may be, and from whom we have hitherto copied everything, though usually with little skill.

If we had in fact ceased to copy it we would not thereby have triumphed over it, but only have liberated ourselves from it: only if we had imposed upon the French an original German culture could there be any question of a victory of German culture. In the meantime, we should not forget that we are still dependent on Paris in all matters of form, just as before – and that we have to go on being dependent, for up to now there has been no original German culture.

We all ought to have been aware of this from our own knowledge: in addition to which, one of the few who had a right to speak to the Germans of it in a tone of reproach has publicly revealed it. ‘We Germans are of yesterday’, Goethe once said to Eckermann; ‘it is true that we have been soundly cultivating ourselves for a century, but another couple of centuries may have to pass before sufficient spirit and higher culture has penetrated our countrymen and become general for it to be possible to say of them: it is a long time since they were barbarians.’?

Source of English translation: Friedrich Nietzsche, “David Strauss, the Confessor and the Writer,” in Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, edited by Daniel Breazeale, translated by R.J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997, pp. 3-6.

Original German text printed in Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), “David Strauss. Der Bekenner und Schriftsteller,” in Nietzsche, Unzeitgemäße Betrachtungen (1873-76). Original German text reprinted in Nietzsches Schriften oder der furor philosophicus, edited and introduced by Ralf Krause, CD-ROM. Berlin: heptagon, 2001, pp. 155-60.

first page < previous   |   next > last page