Georg Brandes

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The educator shall help the young to educate themselves in opposition to the age.
He who feels that in his inmost being he cannot be compared with others, will be his own lawgiver.

Georg Morris Cohen Brandes (4 February 184219 February 1927) was a Danish critic and scholar who had great influence on Scandinavian and European literature from the 1870s through the turn of the 20th century.


We need only think of the number of talented men who sooner or later make their apologies and concessions to philistinism, so as to be permitted to exist.
  • The crowd will follow a leader who marches twenty steps in advance; but if he is a thousand steps in front of them, they do not see and do not follow him, and any literary freebooter who chooses may shoot him with impunity.
  • The stream of time sweeps away errors, and leaves the truth for the inheritance of humanity.
    • Ferdinand Lassalle (1881)
  • It would be as impossible for me to attack Christianity as it would be impossible for me to attack werewolves.
    • From Selected Letters of Friedrich Nietzsche (1921): Brandes to Nietzsche, 23 November 1888.
  • I was very much surprised when Mill informed me that he had not read a line of Hegel, either in the original or in translation, and regarded the entire Hegelian philosophy as sterile and empty sophistry. I mentally confronted this with the opinion of the man at the Copenhagen University who knew the history of philosophy best, my teacher, Hans Brochner, who knew, so to speak, nothing of contemporary English and French philosophy, and did not think them worth studying. I came to the conclusion that here was a task for one who understood the thinkers of the two directions, who did not mutually understand one another. I thought that in philosophy, too, I knew what I wanted, and saw a road open in front of me.
    • Reminiscences of my Childhood and Youth (1906), pp. 276–277
  • "[of Kierkegaard's behavior towards his ex-fiance Regine] There isn't the slightest reason to condemn him, but every call to attempt to understand him". "[Kierkegaard is] the mystery, the great mystery".
    • Der er ikke den ringeste Grund til at fordomme ham, men al Opfordring til at forsoge at forstaae ham... han er Gaaden, den store Gaade.
    • Søren Kierkegaard: A Critical Presentation in Outline (Søren Kierkegaard: En kritisk Fremstilling i Grundrids) (1877). Quoted in the Los Angeles Review of Books, 9 April 2014

An Essay on Aristocratic Radicalism (1889)[edit]

As translated in Friedrich Nietzsche (1914), translated by A.G. Chater
  • He maintains that culture shows itself above all else in a unity of artistic style running through every expression of a nation's life. On the other hand, the fact of having learnt much and knowing much is, as he points out, neither a necessary means to culture nor a sign of culture; it accords remarkably well with barbarism, that is to say, with want of style or a motley hotchpotch of styles.
  • Nietzsche asks how it has come about that so prodigious a contradiction can exist as that between the lack of true culture and the self-satisfied belief in actually possessing the only true one and he finds the answer in the circumstance that a class of men has come to the front which no former century has known, and to which (in 1873) he gave the name of “Culture-Philistines.”
    • p. 8
  • The Culture-Philistine … everywhere meets with educated people of his own sort, and since schools, universities and academies are adapted to his requirements and fashioned on the model corresponding to his cultivation. Since he finds almost everywhere the same tacit conventions with respect to religion, morality and literature, with respect to marriage, the family, the community and the state, he considers it demonstrated that this imposing homogeneity is culture. It never enters his head that this systematic and well-organised philistinism, which is set up in all high places and installed at every editorial desk, is not by any means made culture just because its organs are in concert. It is not even bad culture, says Nietzsche; it is barbarism fortified to the best of its ability, but entirely lacking the freshness and savage force of original barbarism; and he has many graphic expressions to describe Culture-Philistinism as the morass in which all weariness is stuck fast, and in the poisonous mists of which all endeavour languishes.
    • p. 8
  • What is public opinion? It is private indolence.
    • p. 9
  • On entering life, then, young people meet with various collective opinions, more or less narrow-minded. The more the individual has it in him to become a real personality, the more he will resist following a herd. But even if an inner voice says to him; “Become thyself! Be thyself!” he hears its appeal with despondency. Has he a self? He does not know; he is not yet aware of it. He therefore looks about for a teacher, an educator, one who will teach him, not something foreign, but how to become his own individual self.
    We had in Denmark a great man who with impressive force exhorted his contemporaries to become individuals. But Søren Kierkegaard’s appeal was not intended to be taken so unconditionally as it sounded. For the goal was fixed. They were to become individuals, not in order to develop into free personalities, but in order by this means to become true Christians. Their freedom was only apparent; above them was suspended a “Thou shalt believe!” and a “Thou shalt obey!” Even as individuals they had a halter round their necks, and on the farther side of the narrow passage of individualism, through which the herd was driven, the herd awaited them again one flock, one shepherd.
    It is not with this idea of immediately resigning his personality again that the young man in our day desires to become himself and seeks an educator. He will not have a dogma set up before him, at which he is expected to arrive.
    • pp. 9-10
  • Nietzsche says that as soon as he had read a single page of Schopenhauer, he knew he would read every page of him and pay heed to every word, even to the errors he might find. Every intellectual aspirant will be able to name men whom he has read in this way.
    • p. 10
  • The society of the Culture-Philistines makes life a burden to exceptional men.
    • p. 10
  • We need only think of the number of talented men who sooner or later make their apologies and concessions to philistinism, so as to be permitted to exist.
    • p. 11
  • The great man is not the child of his age but its step-child.
    • [paraphrasing Nietzsche] p. 11
  • The educator shall help the young to educate themselves in opposition to the age.
    • p. 11
  • It appears to [Nietzsche] that the modern age has produced for imitation three types of man … First, Rousseau’s man, the Titan who raises himself … and in his need calls upon holy nature. Then Goethe’s man … a spectator of the world … [Third] Schopenhauer’s man … voluntarily takes upon himself the pain of telling the truth.
    • p. 11-12
  • When does a state of culture prevail? When the men of a community are steadily working for the production of single great men. From this highest aim all the others follow. And what state is farthest removed from a state of culture? That in which men energetically and with united forces resist the appearance of great men, partly by preventing the cultivation of the soil required for the growth of genius, partly by obstinately opposing everything in the shape of genius that appears amongst them. Such a state is more remote from culture than that of sheer barbarism.
    • p. 12
  • Forgetfulness, the unhistorical, is … the atmosphere, in which alone life can come into being. In order to understand it, let us imagine a youth who is seized with a passion for a woman, or a man who is swayed by a passion for his work. In both cases what lies behind them has ceased to exist and yet this state (the most unhistorical that can be imagined) is that in which every action, every great deed is conceived and accomplished.
    • p. 16
  • History, in [Nietzsche’s] view, belongs to him who is fighting a great fight, and who needs examples, teachers and comforters, but cannot find them among his contemporaries. Without history the mountain chain of great men’s great moments, which runs through millennia, could not stand clearly and vividly before me.
    • p. 17
  • The historian is looked upon as objective when he measures the past by the popular opinions of his own time, as subjective when he does not take these opinions for models. That man is thought best fitted to depict a period of the past, who is not in the least affected by that period. But only he who has a share in building up the future can grasp what the past has been, and only when transformed into a work of art can history arouse or even sustain instincts.
    • pp. 18-19
  • Greatness has nothing to do with results or with success.
    • p. 19
  • Why you exist, says Nietzsche with Søren Kierkegaard, nobody in the world can tell you in advance; but since you do exist, try to give your existence a meaning by setting up for yourself as lofty and noble a goal as you can.
    • p. 19
  • The masses are only to be regarded as one of three things: either as copies of great personalities, bad copies, clumsily produced in a poor material, or as foils to the great, or finally as their tools
    • p. 20
  • What has set the mass in motion for any length of time is then called great. It is given the name of a historical power. When, for example, the vulgar mob has appropriated or adapted to its needs some religious idea, has defended it stubbornly and dragged it along for centuries, then the originator of that idea is called great. There is the testimony of thousands of years for it, we are told. But this is Nietzsche’s and Kierkegaard’s idea the noblest and highest does not affect the masses at all, either at the moment or later. Therefore the historical success of a religion, its toughness and persistence, witness against its founder’s greatness rather than for it.
    • p. 20
  • [Nietzsche inveighs] against every sort of historical optimism; but he energetically repudiates the ordinary pessimism, which is the result of degenerate or enfeebled instincts of decadence. He preaches with youthful enthusiasm the triumph of a tragic culture, introduced by an intrepid rising generation, in which the spirit of ancient Greece might be born again. He rejects the pessimism of Schopenhauer, for he already abhors all renunciation; but he seeks a pessimism of healthiness, one derived from strength, from exuberant power, and he believes he has found it in the Greeks.
    • p. 21
  • But what of the voice and judgment of conscience? The difficulty is that we have a conscience behind our conscience, an intellectual one behind the moral. … We can see quite well that our opinions of what is noble and good, our moral valuations, are powerful levers where action is concerned; but we must begin by refining these opinions and independently creating for ourselves new tables of values.
    • pp. 25-26
  • Instead of trying to educate the human race, they should imitate the pedagogues of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, who concentrated their efforts on the education of a single person.
    • p. 26
  • He who feels that in his inmost being he cannot be compared with others, will be his own lawgiver. For one thing is needful: to give style to one’s character. This art is practised by him who, with an eye for the strong and weak sides of his nature, removes from it one quality and another, and then by daily practice and acquired habit replaces them by others which become second nature to him; in other words, he puts himself under restraint in order by degrees to bend his nature entirely to his own law. Only thus does a man arrive at satisfaction with himself, and only thus does he become endurable to others. For the dissatisfied and the unsuccessful as a rule avenge themselves on others. They absorb poison from everything, from their own incompetence as well as from their poor circumstances, and they live in a constant craving for revenge on those in whose nature they suspect harmony. Such people ever have virtuous precepts on their lips; the whole jingle of morality, seriousness, chastity, the claims of life; and their hearts ever burn with envy of those who have become well [harmonious] and can therefore enjoy life.
    • p. 26
  • Since fresh examples and proofs could always be found of the alleged relation between guilt and punishment: if you behave in such and such a way, it will go badly with you. Now, as it generally does go badly, the allegation was constantly confirmed; and thus popular morality, a pseudo- science on a level with popular medicine, continually gained ground.
    • p. 26 (cf. Daybreak, § 11)
  • The oldest definition [of “good”] was this: the noble, the mightier, higher-placed and high-minded held themselves and their actions to be good of the first rank in contradistinction to everything low and low-minded. Noble, in the sense of the class-consciousness of a higher caste, is the primary concept from which develops good in the sense of spiritually aristocratic. The lowly are designated as bad (not evil). Bad does not acquire its unqualified depreciatory meaning till much later. In the mouth of the people it is a laudatory word; the German word schlecht is identical with schlicht (cf. schlechtweg and schlechterdings).
    • p. 30
  • In opposition to the aristocratic valuation (good = noble, beautiful, happy, favoured by the gods) the slave morality then is this: The wretched alone are the good; those who suffer and are heavy laden, the sick and the ugly, they are the only pious ones. On the other hand, you, ye noble and rich, are to all eternity the evil, the cruel, the insatiate, the ungodly, and after death the damned. Whereas noble morality was the manifestation of great self-esteem, a continual yea-saying, slave morality is a continual Nay, a Thou shall not, a negation. To the noble valuation good bad (bad = worthless) corresponds the antithesis of slave morality, good evil. And who are the evil in this morality of the oppressed? Precisely the same who in the other morality were the good.
    • pp. 30-31
  • What [Nietzsche] calls slave morality is to him purely spite-morality; and this spite-morality gave new names to all ideals. Thus impotence, which offers no reprisal, became goodness; craven baseness became humility; submission to him who was feared became obedience; inability to assert one’s self became reluctance to assert one’s self, became forgiveness, love of one’s enemies. Misery became a distinction
    • pp. 31-32
  • Those [Christians] had left to love on earth were then: brothers and sisters in hatred, whom they called then: brothers and sisters in love.
    • p. 32
  • For long ages, too, no notice whatever was taken of the criminal’s “sin”; he was regarded as harmful, not guilty, and looked upon as a piece of destiny; and the criminal on his side took his punishment as a piece of destiny which had overtaken him, and bore it with the same fatalism … In general we may say that punishment tames the man, but does not make him “better.”
    • pp. 38-39
  • Nietzsche proposes the following brilliant hypothesis: The bad conscience is the deep-seated morbid condition that declared itself in man under the stress of the most radical change he has ever experienced when he found himself imprisoned in perpetuity within a society which was in- violable. All the strong and savage instincts such as adventurousness, rashness, cunning, rapacity, lust of power, which till then had not only been honoured, but actually encouraged, were suddenly put down as dangerous, and by degrees branded as immoral and criminal. Creatures adapted to a roving life of war and adventure suddenly saw all their instincts classed as worthless, nay, as forbidden. An immense despondency, a dejection without parallel, then took possession of them. And all these instincts that were not allowed an outward vent, turned inwards on the man himself feelings of enmity, cruelty, … violence, persecution, destruction and thus the bad conscience originated.
    • p. 39
  • What has here happened is that the instinct of cruelty, which has turned inwards, has become self-torture, and all man’s animal instincts have been reinterpreted as guilt towards God. Every Nay man utters to his nature, to his real being, he flings out as a Yea, an affirmation of reality applied to God’s sanctity
    • p. 40
  • Under the dominion of the priests our earth became the ascetic planet; a squalid den careering through space, peopled by discontented and arrogant creatures, who were disgusted with life, abhorred their globe as a vale of tears, and who in their envy and hatred of beauty and joy did themselves as much harm as possible.
    • p. 41
  • The ascetic priest … keeps the whole herd of dejected, faint-hearted, despairing and unsuccessful creatures fast to life. The very fact that he himself is sick makes him their born herdsman. If he were healthy, he would turn away with loathing from all this eagerness to re-label weakness, envy, Pharisaism and false morality as virtue. But, being himself sick, he is called upon to be an attendant in the great hospital of sinners the Church. He … teaches the patient that the guilty cause of his pain is himself. Thus he diverts the rancour of the abortive man and makes him less harmful, by letting a great part of his resentment recoil on himself. …He mitigates suffering and invents consolations of every kind, both narcotics and stimulants.
    • pp. 41-42
  • [Nietzsche] attributes to himself an extremely vivid and sensitive instinct of cleanliness. At the first contact the filth lying at the base of another’s nature is revealed to him. The unclean are therefore ill at ease in his presence
    • pp. 112-113
  • The loathing of mankind is a force that surprises and overwhelms one, fed by hundreds of springs concealed his subconsciousness. One only detects its presence after having long entertained it unawares.
    • pp. 113

On Reading: An Essay (1906)[edit]

  • Young girls sometimes make use of the expression: “Reading books to read one’s self.” They prefer a book that presents some resemblance to their own circumstances and experiences. It is true that we can never understand except through ourselves. Yet, when we want to understand a book, it should not be our aim to discover ourselves in that book, but to grasp clearly the meaning which its author has sought to convey through the characters presented in it. We reach through the book to the soul that created it. And when we have learned as much as this of the author, we often wish to read more of his works. We suspect that there is some connection running through the different things he has written and by reading his works consecutively we arrive at a better understanding of him and them. Take, for instance, Henrik Ibsen’s tragedy, “Ghosts.” This earnest and profound play was at first almost unanimously denounced as an immoral publication. Ibsen’s next work, “An Enemy of the People,” describes, as is well known the ill-treatment received by a doctor in a little seaside town when he points out the fact that the baths for which the town is noted are contaminated. The town does not want such a report spread; it is not willing to incur the necessary expensive reparation, but elects instead to abuse the doctor, treating him as if he and not the water were the contaminating element. The play was an answer to the reception given to “Ghosts,” and when we perceive this fact we read it in a new light. We ought, then, preferably to read so as to comprehend the connection between and author’s books. We ought to read, too, so as to grasp the connection between an author’s own books and those of other writers who have influenced him, or on whom he himself exerts an influence. Pause a moment over “An Enemy of the People,” and recollect the stress laid in that play upon the majority who as the majority are almost always in the wrong, against the emancipated individual, in the right; recollect the concluding reply about that strength that comes from standing alone. If the reader, struck by the force and singularity of these thoughts, were to trace whether they had previously been enunciated in Scandinavian books, he would find them expressed with quite fundamental energy throughout the writings of Soren Kierkegaard, and he would discern a connection between Norwegian and Danish literature, and observe how an influence from one country was asserting itself in the other. Thus, by careful reading, we reach through a book to the man behind it, to the great intellectual cohesion in which he stands, and to the influence which he in his turn exerts.
    • pp. 40-43

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