The Ways of Great Men

Arnheim has three role models he seeks to emulate in his quest to become great by fusing great ideas and sound business practices.

In such a fix a cultivated man might for instance be reminded of the link between the world of learning and the Church in the Middle Ages. A philosopher who wanted to succeed and influence the thought of his contemporaries had to get along with the Church in those days, which might lead the vulgar freethinker to suppose that such constraints must have kept the philosopher from rising to greatness. But the opposite was the case. Our experts assure us that the result was nothing less than an incomparable Gothic beauty of thought, and if it was possible to make allowances for the Church without harming one’s intellectual quality, why shouldn’t it be possible to do the same for advertising? (I,470-471)

Goethe, too, knew how to remain lofty while living in the real world.

Arnheim modeled himself on the great poet in many ways. But his favorite story about him was the well-known incident when Goethe, while secretly sympathizing, left poor Johann Gottlieb Fichte in the lurch when the philosopher was fired from the University of Jena for having spoken of the Deity and divine matters, “grandly, but perhaps not with the proper decorum,” and went about his defense in an “impassioned” manner rather than extricating himself from the affair “in the smoothest possible way,” as the urbane master poet observes in his memoirs. Arnheim not only would have done exactly as Goethe did, but would have cited Goethe’s example to try to convince all and sundry that this alone was the Goethean, the meaningful way to act. (I,471)

Lastly, Arnheim admired Heine, who we quote directly here on the subject of Napoleon.

“Such a mind,” Heine wrote, referring to Napoleon–though he might as easily have said it of Goethe, whose diplomatic nature he always defended with the acuity of a lover who knows deep down that his is not really in accord with the object of his admiration–“Such a mind is what Kant means when he asks us to imagine one that works, not intellectually, like our own, but intuitively. The knowledge that our intellect acquires by slow analytic study and laborious deduction, the intuitive mind sees and grasps in one and the same movement. Hence his gift for understanding his time and the moment and for cajoling its spirit, never crossing it, always using it. But since this spirit of the age is not merely revolutionary but is formed by the confluence of both revolutionary and reactionary aspects, Napoleon never acted in a purely revolutionary or conterrevolutionary manner but always in the spirit of both views, both principles, both tendencies, which in him came together, and so he always acted in a manner that was natural, simple, great, never fitful or harsh, always calm and temperate. He never had the need to indulge in petty intrigue, and his coups always resulted from his skill in understanding and moving the masses. Petty, analytical minds incline to slow, intricate scheming, while synthesizing intuitive minds have their own miraculous ways of so combining the possibilities held out by the times that they can take speedy advantage of them for their own ends.”

Heine may have meant that a little differently from the way his admirer Arnheim understood it, but Arnheim felt that these words virtually described him as well. (I,472)


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