First Advisor

Richard H. Beyler

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS)


Interdisciplinary Studies




Greece -- Civilization -- To 146 B.C., German Philosophy -- 19th century, Jacob Burckhardt -- 1818-1897, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche -- 1844-1900, Greece -- History -- To 146 B.C. -- Historiography



Physical Description

1 online resource (iii, 115 p.)


In the following study I reappraise the nineteenth century Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897). Burckhardt is traditionally known for having served as the elder colleague and one-time muse of Friedrich Nietzsche at the University of Basel and so his ideas are often considered, by comparison, outmoded or inapposite to contemporary currents of thought. My research explodes this conception by abandoning the presumption that Burckhardt was in some sense "out of touch" with modernity. By following and significantly expanding upon the ideas of historians such as Allan Megill, Lionel Gossman, Hayden White, Joseph Mali, John Hinde and Richard Sigurdson, among others, I am able to portray Burckhardt as conversely inaugurating a historiography laden with elements of insightful social criticism. Such criticisms are in fact bolstered by virtue of their counter-modern characteristic. Burckhardt reveals in this way a perspicacity that both anticipates Nietzsche's own critique of modernity and in large part moves well beyond him. Much of this analysis is devised through a genealogical approach to Burckhardt which places him squarely within a cohesive branch of post-Kantian thought that I have called heterodox post-Kantianism. My study revaluates Burckhardt through the alembic of a "discursive" post-Kantian turn which reinvests many of his outré ideas, including his radical appropriation of historical representation, his non-teleological historiography, his various pessimistic inclinations, and additionally, his non-empirical, "aesthetic" study of history, or "mythistory," with a newfound philosophical germaneness. While I survey the majority of Burckhardt's output in the course of my work, I invest a specific focus in his largely unappreciated Greek lectures (given in 1869 but only published in English in full at the end of the twentieth century). Burckhardt's "dark" portrayal of the Greeks serves to not only upset traditional conceptions of antiquity but also the manner in which self-conception is informed through historical inquiry. Burckhardt returns us then to an altogether repressed antiquity: to a hidden, yet internal "dream of a shadow." My analysis culminates with an attempt to reassess the place of Burckhardt's ideas for modernity and to correspondingly reexamine Nietzsche. In particular, I highlight the disparity between Nietzsche's and Burckhardt's reception of the "problem of power," including the latter's reluctance - which was attended by ominous and highly prescient predictions of future large-scale wars and the steady "massification" of western society - to accept Nietzsche's acclamation of a final "will to power." Burckhardt teaches us the value of history as an active counterforce to dominant modern reality-formations and in doing so, his work rehabilitates the relevance of history for a world which, as Burckhardt once noted, suffers today from a superfluity of present-mindedness.


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Portland State University. Graduate Studies and Research. Interdisciplinary Programs

Persistent Identifier