"On the Use and Abuse of History for Life""", 1874 ("Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben") offers—instead of the prevailing view of "knowledge as an end in itself"—an alternative way of reading history, one where living life becomes the primary concern, along with a description of how this might improve the health of a society. It also introduces an attack against the basic precepts of classic humanism.
In this essay, Nietzsche attacks both the historicism of man (the idea that man is created through history) and the idea that one can possibly have an objective concept of man, since a major aspect of man resides in his subjectivity. Nietzsche expands the idea that the essence of man dwells not inside of him, but rather above him, in the following essay, "Schopenhauer als Erzieher" ("Schopenhauer as Educator"). Glenn Most argues for the possible translation of the essay as "The Use and Abuse of History Departments for Life", as Nietzsche used the term Historie and not Geschichte. Furthermore, he alleges that this title may have its origins via Jacob Burckhardt, who would have referred to Leon Battista Alberti's treatise, De commodis litterarum atque incommodis (On the Advantages and Disadvantages of Literary Studies, 1428). Glenn Most argues that the untimeliness of Nietzsche here resides in calling to a return, beyond historicism, to Humboldt's humanism, and, maybe even beyond, to the first humanism of the Renaissance.
This particular essay is notable for showcasing the increasingly strident elitism Nietzsche was developing inside his mind. Nietzsche's "untimely" thesis flies directly into the face of demotic modernity in aggressively asserting the dispensability of the majoritarian mass of humanity and history's only meaning residing solely in "great individuals":
The masses seem to be worth notice in three aspects only: first as the copies of great men, printed on bad paper from worn-out plates, next as a contrast to the great men, and lastly as their tools: for the rest, let the devil and statistics fly away with them!