Shengren – Chapter – Friedrich W. C. K. F. F. v. Humboldt

Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand Freiherr von Humboldt, or Friedrich W. C. K. F. F. von Humboldt, or just “Humboldt”, has been called a many names: diplomat, educator, the educator, reformer, orientalist, philosopher, and a passionate linguistic. He was also a great sponsor of German orientalism. Humboldt lent his name to the Humboldt’sche University Reformation, an educational reform that thoroughly changed first German education and then the European and American ones.

German children’s moral education started at the age of three in the Kindergarten. By the age of six the pupils entered the school system and during the next four years they were examined by their ability to think logically, rationally and scientifically. Meanwhile, their moral education continued along Christian values. At the age of ten, their future would be decided: the children were divided onto three school forms, according the function they were supposed to take up in German society later in life: the Hauptschule produced Germany’s low-skill workers, the Realschule produced Germany’s office personnel and service people, and the Gymnasium educated the German intelligentsia. The Gymnasium prepared for university studies, and thus attendance lasted two or three years longer. The word “Student” (student) is reserved for University students only in Germany. All other students are called “Schüler” (pupils). After finishing school they have to attend vocational schools for two to four years. Their “education” is finalized by a vocational certificate. Whatever profession the Germans were trained in (or studied for) – that one became one’s lifelong profession. And because it took a third of one’s life-time to eventually get there, a sudden career shift or change of profession was absurd and unthinkable. From today’s perspective, this sound very inflexible, so why did people comply? The responsibility for education lied primarily with the state and the federated Länder, not with the parents, and thus all education was for free in turn for the parents’ handing over the future of their children to the nation.

Once the loyal and selected few entered a German university, they enjoyed academic freedom and few restrictions to what they could do and what they wanted to learn, even how long it took them. Such freedom resulted into the greatest possible creativity. Germany never differentiated between the sciences and the humanities: both were Wissenschaften (sciences). The humanities were called Geisteswissenschaften (the sciences of the mind); and law was called Rechtswissenschaften (the sciences of law). Even music was called a science in Germany: Musikwissenschaft (the science of music). Even more thrilling: The Humboldt’sche University Reform meant also that the study of other cultures, literature, and languages, became sciences too. For example the study of Islam became Islamwissenschaften (the sciences of Islam). Sometimes the long word Wissenschaft (science) is omitted in favor of expert terminology. Regardless, Indology, Sinology, Japanology, Buddhology are all parts of the Kulturwissenschaften (the sciences of culture, or the cultural sciences) and Geschichtswissenschaften (the sciences of history), or Sprachwissenschaften (the sciences of languages).

In addition, the Humboldt reform made the study of Greek and/or Latin grammar compulsory. Most doctoral degrees demanded Latin proficiency, including philosophy and medicine. And the study of foreign languages became generally very popular. Humboldt’s plan for the scientification of all branches of human knowledge entailed that foreign cultures and languages should be studied in the same way Germany studied the natural sciences. Mastering the natural sciences was to control nature. Mastering the mind sciences was to control mind. Mastering foreign cultures was to control those cultures. Common sense has it that studying Italian, for example, was best done by spending four years in Italy. But that was not scientific language education, textual analysis, etymology, literature. The study of Classical and foreign languages in Germany had to be done in Germany, from the German perspective, through the German medium. Chinese had to be learned in Germany, not in China. (Which is true even today, no one questions this.) Not to mention the influence of Christian moral education and the philosophical approach to all German thinking. An irritating side effect of the Humboldt’sche reform – to the anger and envy of the other Europeans – was that German thinkers now felt the urge to explain to foreigners how those foreigners think or how they ought to think, and would not tolerate foreign opinions. What were mere foreign opinions against German superior philosophies and sciences?

The Germans, arrogantly did not need to go and see and hold a conversation, they had abiding confidence in text criticism and reasoning and faith in their brutality.[1]

The coming of the Nazi was only a matter of time. Nazism is the total rationalization of one’s ego. Total rationalization is spiritual. That’s why the people inside Germany thought they were acting completely rational (even practical), while the outside world watched in horror a gigantic German cult eating away all reason.

[1] Marchand, 2009, p. 497