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On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life

Species of History

Friedrich Nietzsche was a German philosopher whose relativistic view formed an important precursor to the post-modern movement. He first began his career as a small-scale philologist before turning to philosophy. In his essay, he wrote about the different types of history that normal human beings experience and the benefits and limitations of each one of the different types. Each of these species of history may serve “life and action” and they can work to take away life and its essence. Friedrich viewed history in three main categories that he says impacted the lives and future lives of people who have undergone them. These species are monumental, antiquarian, and have critical history. The three different historical species occur all over the world and impact people differently as people may be going through different histories at the same time.

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Monumental History

Monumental history is the first species of history discussed by Nietzsche, and it uses past heroes such as Van Gough, Shakespeare, and Plato as models. It utilizes these models to help people strive to be great or even greater than their models. Individuals look up to these heroic models as a reflection of where they want to be and help them strive to attain their model’s height of success or achievement. According to the article, “It is the belief in the affinity and continuity of the great of all ages; it is a protest against the change of generations and transitions” (Nietzsche, 1983). It provides a break from the contemporary mediocrity where one cannot find people who share the same values with them and searches for it among the past heroes.

However, the disadvantage with this form of history is that there is an aspect of “hero worship” which can lead to discrediting all newcomers and oneself. It also leads to cult-like relations whereby individuals praise their models and tend to become an extension of their hero’s life. As a result, it robs people of individuality and kills the essence of life. Although thinking of one’s models as gods diminishes a person, viewing them as equals empower individuals to make their own moves and forge their own path.

Antiquarian History

This type of history is viewed from a genealogical perspective and societal roots. In context, this is identifying individual achievements past societal achievements. For instance, Italians viewed Rome as an achievement of their past civilizations. The past achievements of a person’s society motivate them to be in pursuit of greatness as their predecessors were (Nietzsche, 1983). People tend to study the roots of their forefathers and find facts and teachings they can use in life. They are motivated to be as great as their ancestors because they believe that if people in their lineage could rise to great heights, they too could.

Nevertheless, the dangers are that the past becomes an object of their desire. This kind of history could also force an individual to comply with their genealogical conditions. For example, a son who comes from a lineage where all males were known to become doctors or medical practitioners might be forced to go down the same career or else he will be viewed as a disgrace to their family. In old times, male children of Mafia members were forced to join the family business as a family tradition failure to which, they would be perceived as a disgrace to the family or as a traitor to the family’s cause. This is what Friedrich tends to call the “blind lust for collecting a restless raking together of all that has once been” (Nietzsche, 1983). Antiquarian history might force a person to live a life they do not desire because it is expected of them.

Critical History

Critical history calls for the use of creativity when one tends to employ the past. An individual is required to re-write and sometimes rethink the type of history they want (Nietzsche, 1983). In so doing, they choose the type of history that is favorable to their cause and not the one that seems to sabotage their own cause for life. Similar to the other types of history, critical history has its dangers. For instance, one may fail to live a reality since they do not accept that which is true and might have happened in the past, thereby living a lie. Failure to be truthful with oneself ends up killing the essence of life, which is being truthful to oneself.

Friedrich also stressed the advantages and disadvantages of history in life. One of the benefits stated is being able to contemplate the future and set up new paths, goals, and plans for the future. One can see whether their plans are coming to fruition. Additionally, they can track past mistakes and patterns and judge whether they serve a benefit to their purpose in life. This can help individuals decide whether to change or stay on the same track. The past can also help one create a sense of high self-esteem when one reflects on their past achievements. They can then plan new feats or heights of achievements they want to reach in their fields of profession and passion.

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Despite the advantages of history for life, there also are some limitations. When one thinks of the past in a negative manner, they could kill the psyche of life since they focus only on the negativity which brings about adverse outcomes. The past can also make one feel lesser due to the emergence of emotions such as guilt, doubt, and past hate. This affects the mental state of an individual and in the end, it will hinder growth. One should only use the path of history in a way that is beneficial to their growth and not as a stunting factor in the growth process.


In his essay, Friedrich Nietzsche views people as well as animals differently in that, animals are unhistorical yet people as historic. This means that people record their past and at the same time are wondering about the future. On the other hand, animals only live in the moment and cannot form memories about the past or contemplate future ordeals. Humans are jealous of this since animals cannot regret their past or worry about the future. To even this phenomenon out, Friedrich suggests that people should have a “plastic power” whereby they are able to bend their views about the past and their expectations about the future. In addition, using the unhistorical and historical aspects of both times, a person can become a well-guided individual. They will be more aware of their choices and become what Nietzsche calls “a powerful, healthy human”. Overall, the past can be a powerful tool for recovery and progress and thus creating balance within an individual.


Nietzsche, F. (1983). On the uses and disadvantages of history for life. Untimely Meditations. Cambridge University Press.

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