Twilight of the Idols

by

Friedrich Nietzsche

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Twilight of the Idols: What the Germans Lack Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
1. Today’s German people not only have “spirit” but also “the presumption to possess it,” argues Nietzsche. They have inherited their ancestors’ skills, and though they are confident, industrious, and strong, their culture “is not a high culture.” Nietzsche argues that power makes one stupid, and this is exactly what has happened to the Germans, who abhor intellect and funnel all their energy into politics.
Nietzsche’s remark about today’s German people having “spirit” alludes to Hegel’s concept of “Geist” or “spirit.” Nietzsche sees Germany’s cultural influence as less a consequence of a rich, meaningful culture than a side effect of having political power and influence.
Themes
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Quotes
2. Nietzsche mourns what the German spirit could be, were it not so absorbed in politics. He derides Germans for being intellectually lazy and drinking too much beer. He caustically mourns the “degeneration” of David Strauss, “our first German free-thinker,” who fell to preaching “ale-house gospel.”
For Nietzsche, political power and cultural development are mutually exclusive: a nation that pursues political projects suffers cultural and intellectual decline. Nietzsche will criticize David Strauss later on in greater detail. His main reason for insulting Strauss is that he wrote books that sought to use rationality and historical research to legitimize religion (and religion and the worship of rationality are Nietzsche’s two main targets in this book and elsewhere).
Themes
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The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
3. Nietzsche bemoans what he sees as the “decline” of “German passion in spiritual things.” In short, German “pathos” is just as threatened as German intellect. German universities bore Nietzsche. For nearly two decades, he blames “the despiritualizing influence of our contemporary scientific pursuits” for the deficit of serious intellectual scholarship and art.
When Nietzsche criticizes contemporary Germany’s lack of “passion,” he’s suggesting that they have sacrificed instinct for rationality and “contemporary scientific pursuits.” He sees German culture as a casualty of a morality that values rationality over human instinct.
Themes
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The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon
Christianity and the “Revaluation of All Values”  Theme Icon
4. For Nietzsche, the cause of German culture’s decline is obvious: he blames Germany’s overinvestment in politics, economic affairs, and the military for the degradation of its culture. “Culture and the state,” proclaims Nietzsche, “are antagonists.” Modernity’s notion of a “cultural state” is absurd, and all good art comes out of nations in “political decline.” It was Napoleon’s pursuits that inspired Goethe, for instance. Today, as Germany’s political power increases, France’s cultural output increases, and all of Germany’s serious intellects and artists have fled to France.
Again, for Nietzsche, culture and politics are mutually exclusive. In Nietzsche’s contemporary Germany, nationalism had been on the rise ever since the unification of Germany in 1871 following German victory in the Franco-German War. And ever since then, its cultural output has suffered. By contrast, France, which suffered a decisive loss to the Kingdom of Prussia (Prussia would combine with other German nation states to form the unified German Empire) in the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, has a comparatively rich intellectual culture. 
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5. German higher education has lost sight of both “the end, as well as the means to the end.” Educators are inferior and need educators themselves. Schools’ purpose now is to prepare students for military service. Another reason higher education is failing is because it’s no longer reserved for the best students—it’s become more democratic. As such, Germans are no longer “free” to give their kids “a noble education.”   
By all accounts, higher education in Germany in the 19th century was highly regarded for its emphasis on the pursuit of truth and knowledge for its own sake. Nietzsche seems to take issue with the fact that following Germany’s unification in 1871, the school system became more centralized and inclusive. Nietzsche has already made it clear that politics and culture are mutually exclusive, so he’ll automatically be skeptical of any political/governmental meddling in education.
Themes
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6. Nietzsche proposes three methods to restore Germany to its formerly noble culture: educators must “learn to see, […] to think, […] and to speak and write.” Seeing involves critical thinking: investigating an issue analytically before passing judgment. Learning to see is similar to what society would refer to as having “strong will-power.” 
Put simply, Nietzsche thinks German culture needs to return to a time when it valued “strong will-power” rather than equality and accessibility. He sees the democratization of the higher education system as indicative of a culture that wants to uplift weak and disadvantaged people—at the expense of strong, smart, and powerful people. And in the end, he believes, this initiative hurts everyone.
Themes
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7. German higher education no longer understands what it means to think. They no longer teach how thinking takes practice—that it’s a learned technique, like dancing. Germans have become clumsy dancers who can no longer dance with “intellectual light feet” and “nuance[].”
Nietzsche uses this dancing metaphor to illustrate how Germany’s prioritization of politics and social initiatives have made their culture suffer. As Germany’s political presence grows stronger, their cultural muscles grow clumsy from disuse and inexperience.
Themes
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The Will to Power   Theme Icon
The Ideal vs. The Real  Theme Icon