Nietzsche on anti-modern prejudice

4 posts

Bob Dylan Roof
From Daybreak , Book I, Aphorism 36:

A piece of foolish piety with a concealed purpose . What! the inventors of the earliest cultures, the most ancient devisers of tools and measuring-rods, of carts and ships and houses, the first observers of the celestial order and the rules of the twice-times-table: are they something incomparably different from and higher than the inventors and observers of our own day? Do these first steps possess a value with which all our voyages and world-circumnavigations in the realm of discoveries cannot compare? That is the prejudice, that is the argument for the deprecation of the modern spirit. And yet it is palpably obvious that chance was formerly the greatest of all discoverers and observers and the benevolent inspirer of those inventive ancients, and that more spirit, discipline and scientific imagination is employed in the most insignificant invention nowadays than the sum total available in whole eras of the past.
The question might be framed differently: Is there a stage in the evolution of technology where one can point one's figure and say, "here it should have progressed no farther"? Is it possible to draw the line somewhere? Surely the line can be drawn when technology ceased to develop desirable qualities in the minds, characters, and bodies of the people, and began to develop bad qualities. We can point to the industrial revolution as a definite line of demarcation. It is at this stage that invention begins to possess a value with which past innovations cannot compare.

The energy of our finest minds is expended on science and technology when it might be better devoted to artistic pursuits. Modern technology has proven singularly unfavourable to the creation of any kind of art.
Porkchop Holocaust
He is right that there is nothing comparable to the modern "spirit, discipline and scientific invention" in any other historical period, but some things must be kept in mind when we accept such a claim. The first is that the comparison is not only of degree, as when we say that (modern) Westerners possess more scientific spirit than (modern) Chinese, but of quality, because there is also no relation in terms of equivalence, if we consider precisely this inner dimension, meaning the motivations and underlying assumptions about the world. This means that scientific invention is an exclusive concern of modern Westerners, spread through their influence to the whole world, in most cases ineffectually. This is tied in to my other reservation, which is that of the notion of "ancient inventors", specially when used as evidence of some sort of advancement in spheres outside the technological, which would be something quite alien to the ancients themselves. The anti-modern prejudice that Nietzsche points out is dependent on a pre-existing, underlying modern prejudice, that attributes to ancient inventors an undue importance and goes as far as seeing them as the foundation of ancient cultures, when in fact these ancient cultures developed their essential aspects quite independently of such narrow material considerations, in eras which scholars normally refer to as "dark ages", because they leave few material testimonies in comparison to later phases of their development.
Herr Gundolf


Also: The Dawn is one of his worst works.