Gary K. Clabaugh, Emeritus Professor of Education, La Salle University
Interviewer: Herr Nietzsche, how long since you left us?
Nietzsche: I died in the late summer of 1900; but my strength of mind died in early January of 1889. I was in Turin and saw a coachman flogging a prostrate horse. I rushed to the poor beast and collapsed with my arms around its neck. They had to carry me home. This was the very moment when I lost the last of my sanity. Diving ever deeper into madness for ten long years was all that remained.
One should die proudly when it is no longer possible to live proudly. This proved unfeasible for me.
Interviewer: Did you suffer?
Nietzsche: Yes, although what really raises one’s indignation against suffering is not suffering intrinsically, but the senselessness of it. We would like our suffering, and our entire existence, to have a point. But human life is inexplicable, and without meaning: a fool may decide its fate. Death and the stillness of death are the only things certain and common to all.
Interviewer: It was long thought that your madness and death were caused by syphilis. Medical experts now agree that it was not.
Nietzsche: Now that my enemies have to change their opinion, they will charge my account heavily for the inconvenience I have caused them.
Interviewer: Some experts think that your illness caused the extraordinary spurt of creativity you experienced shortly before your breakdown.
Nietzsche: Quite possibly it did; and that illustrates why you have to be careful in casting out your demon. You might exorcise the best thing in you.
Interviewer: The prime reason I requested this interview was to have you comment on the present state of education — particularly in the United States. Where would you like to begin?
Nietzsche: Let’s begin with the elemental fact that there are two different types of people in the world: those who want to know, and those who want to believe. There is no point in trying to educate the later, though educators keep trying.
Interviewer: But beliefs are the basis of faith.
Nietzsche: Faith is not wanting to know what the truth is.
Interviewer: What about the curriculum? Do you agree with what is being taught these days?
Nietzsche: Of course not. Haven’t you noticed, for example, that when school money runs short music is typically sacrificed? How ridiculous! Life without music is a mistake.
Love too has to be learned. Yet that isn’t in the curriculum; and where one can no longer love, there one should pass by.
Then there is dancing. Dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum of all noble education; dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words, and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with the pen?
None of this is encouraged in school, which means school days are lost days. We all should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. To dance is to be out of you — larger, more beautiful, and more powerful. This is power, this is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking.
A real education facilitates this kind of taking and helps people regain the seriousness that they had as a child at play.
Then there is the penultimate goal of education, which should be to teach people how to fly. Anyone who would learn to fly one day must first learn to walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying. Those you cannot teach to fly, teach to fall faster.
Interviewer: Don’t schools at least strengthen community?
Nietzsche: No, they just strengthen tribalism; and the individual should always struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.
Anyone who tries this will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.
Interviewer: Is that the kind of truth that kids should be exposed to?
Nietzsche: Truths are illusions that we have forgotten are illusions.
Interviewer: But earlier you said that believers do not want to know the truth; and that presupposes truth exists. Aren’t you contradicting yourself?
Nietzsche: Only idiots fail to contradict themselves three times a day. But what is truth but a lie agreed upon or illusions that we have forgotten are illusions? That, my friend, is the essential truth.
Interviewer: Business people are frequently consulted on the way U.S. schools are run. Some business billionaires have even spent billions to shape schooling to their liking. What do you have to say to them?
Nietzsche: I would say this. Business people – your business is your greatest prejudice. Diligent in business, but indolent in spirit. Content with your inadequacy, and with the cloak of duty hung over this contentment. That is how you live, and that is how you want our children to live!”
Interviewer: What about the way U.S. schools are organized and operated?
Nietzsche: I’ve got a little list that covers that:
- First, most schools are run by the state and everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen.
- Second, all schools label their occupants. First grade, second grade, emotionally disturbed, honors, and so on. Yet what labels us negates us.
- Third, schooling takes up too much of an individual’s time. Whoever does not have two-thirds of the day for himself, is a slave, whatever he may be: a statesman, a businessman, an official, or a student.
- Fourth, schools are all about doing what others tell you to do. Nothing destroys a person more quickly than to work, think and feel without inner necessity, without any deep personal desire, without pleasure – as a mere automaton of duty. It is here that we learn to labor at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself.
- Fifth, digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of vitality and health. Disobedience also is healthy — it is the nobility of slaves. Yet it is precisely these things that get you in trouble in school. He who obeys, does not listen to himself!
- Sixth, scholarship is overrated. Behind a remarkable scholar we not infrequently find an average human being, and behind an average artist we often find a very remarkable human being. Art is essentially the affirmation, the blessing, and the deification of existence, and that is precisely why it is given little attention in school.
Interviewer: From what you said about government you obviously don’t like public schools. What, then, do you make of the rapid growth of Christian schools?
Nietzsche: In truth, there was only one Christian and he died on the cross. What is more, in Christianity neither morality nor religion comes into contact with reality at any point. Finally, there is not enough love and goodness in the world to permit giving any of it away to imaginary beings.
Interviewer: For several decades politicians have been trying to reform schooling. What do you make of that?
Nietzsche: A politician divides mankind into two classes: tools and enemies. That is what their school reforms are based on. Plus, there are terrible people who, instead of solving a problem, bungle it and make it more difficult for all who come after. Whoever can’t hit the nail on the head should, please, not hit at all. Do you think these would-be reformers are hitting the nail on the head?
Interviewer: What of the chase after ever higher standardized test scores?
Nietzsche: Chasing after test scores readies students to chase after money and material possessions. Living in a constant chase after gain compels people to expend their spirit to the point of exhaustion in continual pretense and overreaching and anticipating others. Virtue has come to consist of doing something in less time that someone else.
They remind me of monkeys/ Watch them clamber over one another and push one another into the mud. They all want to get to the throne: that is their madness — as if happiness sat on the throne. Often, mud sits on the throne. Mad they all appear to me, these over ardent and clambering monkeys. Foul smells their idol, the cold monster. Foul, they smell to me altogether, these idolaters.
Interviewer: Well. so much for materialism!
We are nearly out of time, so allow me this last bold question. How would you sum up your life?
Nietzsche: Was that a life? Well then, once more!
This “interview” was constructed of actual quotes taken from a variety of sources. While minor modifications were made to fit the venue, Nietzsche’s thoughts and sentiments remain intact.