I often give my students take-home exams that ask them to explicate (give a close reading of) passages from books we are reading. They are asked to identify the passage, place it within the context of the work it is taken from, and then explain what it’s doing. It’s an old-fashioned kind of assignment, hearkening back to the days of the New Criticism, but the emphasis in Baylor’s Great Texts program, like that of the University of Chicago programs on which it is based, is on careful reading of primary texts; and even if this were not so, there’s a lot to be said in this ideological age — an age in which people believe the point of a university is to provide a venue for the declaiming of positions you already hold — there’s great value in requiring students to dig into the details of one small chunk of text and really read it.
Here are the texts for an exam I’ve just handed out.
Each step in the development of the bourgeoisie was accompanied by a corresponding political advance of that class. An oppressed class under the sway of the feudal nobility, an armed and self-governing association in the medieval commune: here independent urban republic (as in Italy and Germany); there taxable “third estate” of the monarchy (as in France); afterwards, in the period of manufacturing proper, serving either the semi-feudal or the absolute monarchy as a counterpoise against the nobility, and, in fact, cornerstone of the great monarchies in general, the bourgeoisie has at last, since the establishment of Modern Industry and of the world market, conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.
The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.
The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous “cash payment”. It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.
— The slave revolt in morals begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and ordains values: the ressentiment of creatures to whom the real reaction, that of the deed, is denied and who find compensation in an imaginary revenge. While all noble morality grows from a triumphant affirmation of itself, slave morality from the outset says no to an ‘outside’, to an ‘other’, to a ‘non-self: and this no is its creative act. The reversal of the evaluating gaze — this necessary orientation outwards rather than inwards to the self — belongs characteristically to ressentiment. In order to exist at all, slave morality from the outset always needs an opposing, outer world; in physiological terms, it needs external stimuli in order to act — its action is fundamentally reaction. The opposite is the case with the aristocratic mode of evaluation: this acts and grows spontaneously, it only seeks out its antithesis in order to affirm itself more thankfully and more joyfully. Its negative concept, ‘low’, ‘common’, ‘bad’, is only a derived, pale contrast to its positive basic concept which is thoroughly steeped in life and passion — ‘we the noble, we the good, we the beautiful, we the happy ones!’ If the aristocratic mode of evaluation errs and sins against reality, this happens in relation to the sphere with which it is not sufficiently familiar, and against real knowledge of which it stubbornly defends itself: it misjudges on occasion the sphere it despises — that of the common man, of the lower people.
You see: reason, gentlemen, is a fine thing, that is unquestionable, but reason is only reason and satisfies only man’s reasoning capacity, while wanting is a manifestation of the whole of life — that is, the whole of human life, including reason and various little itches. And though our life in this manifestation often turns out to be a bit of trash, still it is life and not just the extraction of a square root. I, for example, quite naturally want to live so as to satisfy my whole capacity for living, and not so as to satisfy just my reasoning capacity alone, which is some twentieth part of my whole capacity for living. What does reason know? Reason knows only what it has managed to learn (some things, perhaps, it will never learn; this is no consolation, but why not say it anyway?), while human nature acts as an entire whole, with everything that is in it, consciously and unconsciously, and though it lies, still it lives. I suspect, gentlemen, that you are looking at me with pity; you repeat to me that an enlightened and developed man, such, in short, as the future man will be, simply cannot knowingly want anything unprofitable for himself, that this is mathematics. I agree completely, it is indeed mathematics. But I repeat to you for the hundredth time, there is only one case, one only, when man may purposely, consciously wish for himself even the harmful, the stupid, even what is stupidest of all: namely, so as to have the right to wish for himself even what is stupidest of all and not be bound by an obligation to wish for himself only what is intelligent.