Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 67.djvu/713

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By Professor FRANK THILLY,


EVERY once in a while in the history of human thought a man arises who protests against the mass of tradition in custom, law, morality, science, philosophy and religion, and asserts his own individuality. In the presence of the accumulated acquisitions of human minds and human hands, he experiences a feeling of restraint and dependence, he finds his thought and action tied down on every side by the traditional theories and rules of past generations; the weight of ages rests as an incubus upon his soul and he longs for the free and untrammeled use of his head and heart and hands. Unable any longer to bear the burden of the past upon his shoulders, he casts it off, he declares his independence, he asserts his individuality. He wipes the slate clean, and begins to write upon it new thoughts, new values, new ideals, or at least what seem to him to be new thoughts, values and ideals.

Our present age is the historical age par excellence. It studies the past and shows us how the present has grown out of this past. It regards everything as the product of evolution, it tells us that we are what we are because our ancestors were what they were, that we do what we do because they did what they did; it traces the development of the thinker, the poet, the statesman, of law, morality, religion, art, literature and science; it justifies our conceptions and institutions on the ground that they have grown from simple beginnings and will develop in their own good time into more and more complex and perfect forms. The individual is the child of the past, in him our grandfathers are speaking to the present, in him their ideals and values are asserting themselves; they are the laws of the present, he is their mouthpiece. Against these conceptions and values a man of our time, Friedrich Nietzsche, has uttered his everlasting No. "Man alone," he says," finds himself so hard to bear. That is because he carries so many strange things upon his shoulders. Like the camel he kneels down and allows a heavy load to be placed on his back. Particularly, the strong, burden-bearing man, in whom reverence dwells: too many heavy strange words and values he loads upon his back—and now life seems to him a desert." He breaks the old tables of values and demands that new ones be set up in their stead. He is not content with studying the conditions that gave rise to the ideals which we now