On the Future of Our Educational Institutions

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Edited and Translated by Michael W. Grenke, A William of Moerbeke Translation, 192 pages, 6" x 9", introduction, footnotes, appendices, bibliography, index

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On the Future of Our Educational Institutions

Nietzsche, Friedrich

On the Future of Our Educational Institutions, the work that was to have been Nietzsche's second book until he canceled the contract and used portions in his Untimely Meditations, is a substantial call for radical educational reform presented in the form of a prolonged narrative dialogue. It is presented here in the first English translation ever from the standard critical edition (a little-known translation was made for the Complete Works of 1909, long out of print). Here Nietzsche, through the characters of this prolonged narrative dialogue, starts from a consideration of German educational institutions and rises to a consideration of what is needed for true, or classical, education. Though Nietzsche engages his contemporary world more in this work than in perhaps any other, this engagement is neither arbitrary nor limiting. Starting where one is and has grown up happens to be the necessary grounding of the organic unity that belongs to true culture:

“Every so-called classical education has only one healthy and natural starting point, the artistic, serious, and rigorous habituation in the use of the mother tongue. . . . Here where gradually the distinguishing feeling for form and for barbarism awakes, the wing bestirs itself for the first time that carries to the right and sole home of education, to Greek antiquity. Of course we would not come very far with the help of that wing all alone in the attempt to bring ourselves close to that castle of the Hellenic, infinitely distant and enclosed within diamond ramparts: rather anew we need the same leaders, the same teachers, our German classics, in order ourselves to become swept away under the wingbeat of their ancient endeavors – to the land of longing, to Greece.”

In this dialogue, Nietzsche considers what it would mean to put education, culture, first in priority above all else, above religion, above economics, even above the state. The dialogue's call for educational reform goes so far as to require that the state be completely subordinated to the demands and needs of culture. The state must not be “a border guard, regulator, or overseer for his culture; rather the robust, muscular comrade, ready for battle, and companion on the way, who gives the admired, nobler, and, as it were, unearthly friend safe conduct through the harsh realities and for that earns his thankfulness.”

Not only does the dialogue demand that the state subordinate itself to education, but it goes on to suggest that widespread educational institutions are for the sake of only a small number of beneficiaries. This radical and uncompromising devotion to the education of a very few sketches Nietzsche's thoughts on education perhaps more completely than any other work.

In addition, this dialogue offers numerous other objects of interests. The dialogue form shows off Nietzsche's literary art and offers an occasion to think carefully about the special tasks involved in reading philosophic texts well. The circumstances of this text's writing and its nearly being published offer insights both into Nietzsche's development and into the production of his works, especially regarding the Untimely Meditations. The letters and notes in the appendices help to flesh out the thinking that surrounds this text as well as to suggest the form of the never-written sixth lecture. Also Nietzsche's engagement with the immediate tradition of his ontemporary milieu, not only with Goethe, Schiller, and Lessing but also with lesser figures such as Koetzebue, Grillparzer, and Gutzkow, should be of interest to intellectual historians and students of European culture.

Nietzsche read On the Future of Our Educational Institutions publicly in the form of five lectures. He then tried to rush it into publication, and it very nearly became Nietzsche's second book. Only at the last moment did he withdraw the book from the
public. Now it is available in English.

Michael Grenke is a Tutor at St. John’s College, Annapolis and Santa Fe.