College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

James Conant

"Emerson as Educator (from 'Nietzsche's Perfectionism: A Reading of Schopenhauer as Educator')"

Nietzsche and Emerson may both be considered "moral perfectionists": both celebrate the "exemplar," the exemplary individual, and the aesthetic and moral necessity of "attaching one's heart to some great human being." Traditionally, this common, fundamental aspect of their thought has led to elitist interpretations. Thus John Rawls criticizes Nietzschean perfectionism as incompatible with democratic society--or Judith Shklar argues that Emerson's valorization of great men contradicts his fondness for democracy. This essay offers a close reading of Nietzsche's Schopenhauer as Educator--a work that directly and indirectly echoes Emerson's essays in countless instances (i.e., the concepts of genius, exemplariness, culture, animality, timidity, shame, custom, humanity, trusting oneself, conformity, longing, a circle of duties, and a higher self)--to suggest that Emersonian/Nietzschean perfectionism is not the anti-democratic philosophy it is usually taken to be. Conant argues that Emerson and Nietzsche are, in fact, profoundly critical of the elitist notion of the "great human being" that is usually ascribed to them. He also considers the ways in which Schopenhauer as Educator, in its pervasive quotation of Emerson, enacts the Nietzschean (Emersonian) conception of "education"--the process of attaching oneself to an "educator" or "exemplar."

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