I’ve a piece up today at The Partially Examined Life on Nietzsche’s On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life and whether it still holds up in a time in which our problem is not having an excess of historical awareness.
The real problem, it seems to me, is that the past always exists in a dialectical relationship with the present, whenever we do history. As thinking people, as feeling intellects, we cannot avoid the confrontation with the alterity of the past, which judges us much just as we judge it. If we make the past “live again,” it casts its aspersions upon the present. There are some historians who seem to feel its judgments particularly intensely, and to tend toward conservatism or reaction. A friend and mentor from grad school recalled for me doing research at the Bibliotheque Nationale de France one summer and eating his lunches with Leo Strauss, who was of a close age and, like himself, a brilliant intellectual historian who had fled Nazi Germany as a Jew, but Strauss was to the right, while my friend had wound up on the radical left. Nevertheless, I think the two men enjoyed each other’s company greatly. “What was he like?” I naturally asked. “I had the very strong impression,” my friend said, “that he was deeply unhappy with the modern world and wished that he could have lived in ancient Greece.”