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Nietzsche: blessed are the scholars (1882)

August 28, 2019


Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science [Die fröhliche Wissenschaft], 1882.


The Gay Science is one of Nietzsche’s most interesting books. It is mostly an ode to free thinking, the scientific mindset and rigorous intellectual approach to life.


Almost always the books of scholars are somehow oppressive, oppressed: the “specialist” emerges somewhere—his zeal, his seriousness, his fury, his overestimation of the nook in which he sits and spins, his hunched back; every specialist has his hunched back. Every scholarly book also mirrors a soul that has become crooked; every craft makes crooked.…Nothing can be done about that. Let nobody suppose that one could possibly avoid such crippling by some artifice of education. On this earth one pays dearly for every kind of mastery.…For having a specialty one pays by also being the victim of this specialty. But you would have it otherwise—cheaper and fairer and above all more comfortable—isn’t that right, my dear contemporaries. Well then, but in that case you also immediately get something else: instead of the craftsman and master, [you get] the “man of letters,” the dexterous, “polydexterous” man of letters who, to be sure, lacks the hunched back—not counting the posture he assumes before you, being the salesman of the spirit and the “carrier” of culture—the man of letters who really is nothing but “represents” almost everything, playing and “substituting” for the expert, and taking it upon himself in all modesty to get himself paid, honored, and celebrated in place of the expert.

No, my scholarly friends, I bless you even for your hunched back. And for despising, as I do, the “men of letters” and culture parasites. And for not knowing how to make a business of the spirit. And for having opinions that cannot be translated into financial values. And for not representing anything that you are not. And because your sole aim is to become masters of your craft, with reverence for every kind of mastery and competence, and with uncompromising opposition to everything that is semblance, half-genuine, dressed up, virtuosolike, demagogical, or histrionic in litteris et artibus—to everything that cannot prove to you its unconditional probity in discipline and prior training.


Most of the serious experts in the world have zero tolerance for the wide-ranging generalists (“polydexterous men of letters”) in the world. Their inadequacies are too transparent to them. Generalists are often the ones put in charge of companies, universities, and governments — in other words, the bosses — which brings additional scorn and resentment. Great scholars are crooked, and damaged, and mistreated, but they have something the generalist will never have: the incomparable satisfaction of attaining “mastery and competence” and of belonging to the proud guild of scholars who see and understand what few others ever will. Well, I think there is some exaggeration by Nietzsche with these sentiments, since it takes a lot of different types of people to make this big world of ours, but it does let off a little “scholarly steam” for those feeling under appreciated at times.

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