Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Schopenhauer is the great pessimist of German philosophy. His masterwork is Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung; The World as Will and Representation (1819). According to Schopenhauer, the world is a place of suffering driven by a universal will, and most of our ideas about the world are illusions.

For Schopenhauer, knowledge is grounded in the human body, not in the conscious mind. His ideas were influenced by Hinduism and Buddhism. Schopenhauer advocates an ascetic lifestyle. He regards music as a manifestation of the will, and therefore as the highest form of art.

German-language writers influenced by Schopenhauer include Friedrich Nietzsche, Wilhelm Raabe, Theodor Storm, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Theodor Adorno and Thomas Bernhard.

This is what Schopenhauer has to say on the subject of national pride:

Die wohlfeilste Art des Stolzes ist der Nationalstolz. Denn er verrät in dem damit Behafteten den Mangel an individuellen Eigenschaften, auf die er stolz sein könnte, indem er sonst nicht zu dem greifen würde, was er mit so vielen Millionen teilt. Wer bedeutende persönliche Vorzüge besitzt, wird vielmehr die Fehler seiner eigenen Nation, da er sie beständig vor Augen hat, am deutlichsten erkennen. Aber jeder erbärmliche Tropf, der nichts in der Welt hat, darauf er stolz sein könnte, ergreift das letzte Mittel, auf die Nation, der er gerade angehört, stolz zu sein.

The cheapest form of pride is national pride. In a person who is full of it, it betrays the lack of individual qualities that he could be proud of, since otherwise he would not hang on to something that he shares with so many millions of others. Whoever has significant personal merits will recognise most clearly the errors of his own nation, since he has them continually before his eyes. But every miserable fool who has nothing in the world that he could be proud of, latches onto his last chance to be proud of something: the nation to which he happens to belong.

Further Reading

Matthew Bell, The German Tradition of Psychology in Literature and Thought, 1700-1840 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005)

Terry Eagleton, ‘The Death of Desire: Arthur Schopenhauer’, in Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), pp. 153-72

Christopher Janaway (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)