Anti-Education by Friedrich Nietzsche—Goodreads Book Review

Originally posted on Goodreads.com.

Nietzsche’s early lectures on education are definitely worth reading; however, like everything Nietzsche would eventually write, they’re better digested when one withholds immediate judgment. Taking on the mid-19th-century trend in Germany to make education a public (and, therefore, political) enterprise, Nietzsche points out the contradictions and ironies in the mediocritization of the gymnasium, the German pre-college preparatory school. While he agrees that society benefits from everyone reaching a certain standard of learning, Nietzsche ultimately argues that higher education has inherent limits, both in the standards it should maintain and in the individuals able to meet them.

Signs of Nietzsche’s later philosophical ideas can be seen in these lectures (namely, his warnings about the threats of blanket egalitarianism, the need to focus resources to foster rare geniuses, the danger to culture of state collectivism and journalistic politicking, and the preference for the ridicule of one’s enemies over their praise), though the man who presented these is very different from the man who only a few years later would write Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil. Nonetheless, one can easily read “Anti-Education” as the foothills just before the disillusionment that led Nietzsche up the mountain. Nonetheless, Nietzsche’s broad allegory of overhearing a conversation between philosopher and student (an uncommon throwback to Plato in Nietzsche’s work) lacks the gleeful freedom of his later work, and thus it drags on in spots. However, this is a minor complaint—which would have no doubt been mitigated by listening to the lectures on audiobook.

Nietzsche’s argument—that education can either maintain its high standards and have few faculty and students or lower its standards for egalitarian or political reasons—is not limited to 19th century Germany. One can see what politicized higher education did in Germany a generation after Nietzsche’s warnings went unheeded—see Kantorek in Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The editors of this book present the footnotes for a modern audience, relating the context of Nietzsche’s lectures to modern American college norms.

For more modern perspectives on the topic (at least regarding contemporary American colleges), one can read Brian Caplan’s The Case Against Education (wherein Caplan, an economics professor, examines when college is worth the investment and when not, and whether education is improved or devalued by making it cheaper and more accessible) and Heather MacDonald’s The Diversity Delusion (wherein an investigative journalist examines the effects of diversity and gender-parity programs on both the economics and the quality of education). Even without these, Nietzsche’s lectures are worth considering, especially when considered in the context of Nietzsche’s later works.

Author: dustinllovell

Writing professor, literature and US history tutor, previous ESL instructor, and would-be novelist who enjoys/specializes in Shakespeare, 19th century lit, and philosophy (whether in print or via audiobook). Author of the novel Sacred Shadows and Latent Light (Wipf and Stock, Resources Imprint). Member of Heterodox Academy. Columnist for The Mallard.

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