The lasting influence of Schopenhauer

Posted on July 4, 2012


In times when life is easy, the economy looks buoyant and the future seems to be rosy, the media use to spread the work of thinkers confident in the power of reason and spiritual values. On the contrary, in times of crisis, when politicians and economists turn to be cynical and show their lack of compassion for the common people thrown in the open, it’s time to recall thinkers that, like Arthur Schopenhauer, wrote pages full of skepticism about the real drives of human behavior.

Rüdiger Safranski, essayist and biographer, contends that Schopenhauer is the kind of philosopher that outlined a precise guide to understand our time. From his stress on the biological impulses underlying our spiritual justifications (followed by Sigmund Freud or, in another way, by Dawkins) to his distrust of reason and his contempt for the appeals to patriotism, God, and other spiritual values of the kind, when the man becomes a wolf for the men, Schopenhauer’s writings may be read with new eyes to our avail.

While he was ignored for most of his life, his main opus, The World as Will and Representation, influenced such people as Nietszche, Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Karl Popper or Jorge Luis Borges. In his later years, once he finally found acknowledgment and fame, he indulged in the kind of  self-satisfaction that nobody is immune to and used to give tips to avoid unhappiness and to do a good administration of the State. But his fundamental skepticism about deceptive idealization still has the power and certainty to speak to us as a contemporary.