Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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Introduction .. xi


First Address : Introduction and General Survey . i

Second Address: The General Nature of the New

Education 19

Third Address : Description of the New Education

(continued) • . . • 3^

Fourth Address : The Chief Difference between the

Germans and the other Peoples of Teutonic descent 52

Fifth Address : The Consequences of the Difference ^^
that has been indicated . . . . • 7^

Sixth Address : German Characteristics as Ex-
^ hibited in History • • • • • • 91 .

Seventh Address : A Closer Study of the Originality

and Characteristics of a People . • . . 108

Eighth Address : . What is a People in the Higher
Meaning of the Word, and what is Love of Father-
land ? 130

Ninth Address : The Starting-point that Actually
Exists for the New National Education of the
Germans 152

Tenth Address : Further Definition of the German

National Education 169


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I < . Eleventh Address : On whom will the Carryingxiut

(ii of this Scheme of Education devolve } • .187

Twelfth Address : Concerning the Means for our

Preservation until we attain our Main Object • 205

Thirteenth Address: The same subject further

considered •••.... 223

y ^. Fourteenth Address: Conclusion 248

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\ ,

This translation is based on Vogt's edition of Fichte't
Reden an die dcutsche Nation in the Bibliothek pSda-
gogischer Klassiker, Langensalza, 1896.

Mr Jones is responsible for the translation of Addresses
4> 5> ^9 7> ^» I2> 139 ^^'^ I4» ^f TurnbuU for the remainder
and for the introduction, which is intended primarily
for the general reader. Each of us, however, has had
the benefit of the other's suggestions and criticisms.
We have endeavoured to make the rendering of the prin-
cipal technical terms uniform throughout, and have
aimed at making the translation intelligible, while^.
keeping close to the original German.

We desire to express our deep gratitude to Prof. E. T.
Campagnac for originally suggesting .the translation, for
showing the deepest interest in the work throughout, and
for reading part of the MS. Dr TurnbuU wishes also to
thank Miss E. Purdie for a number of valuable comments
on the rendering of the first address.

R. F. J.
a H. T.


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JoHANN Gottlieb Fichte was born on May 19, 1762,
at Rammenau, a little village in Upper Lusatia between
Dresden and Bautzen. His father, Christian Fichte,
married the daughter of Johann Schurich, a ribbon
manufacturer of the neighbouring town of Pulsnitz, to
whom he was apprenticed, and returned to settle with
his bride in Rammenau, where he managed to make a
living by following his trade as a ribbon-weaver. Johann
was the eldest of a family of six sons and one daughter,
and at an early age showed signs of precocious intelligence,
conscientiousness, and stubbornness.

By a fortunate accident the young Johann came under
the notice of Baron von Miltitz, a neighbouring land-
owner, who took him under his protection and sent him
to be educated, first at Niederau by a Pastor Krebel,
with whom he remained for nearly five years, and th^i
in 1774 ^^ ^^^ well-known school at Pforta near Naum-
burg. His* patron's death early in the same year made
no difference to Fichte's education, for he received finan-
cial support from the relatives and friends of the baron
until 1784^ when his allowance was stopped by the latter's
widow. Jrte remained at Pforta until 1780, when he
became a theological student first at Jena and th^i at
Leipzig^ He did not complete his (fourse, but spent
the years from 1784 to 1788 as a private tutor in various




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families, being unable to keep any post for long owing,
- it is said, to his proud temper and his original ideas on
1 1 education. In 1788 he was a tutor at Zurich, where

he met distinguished men like Lavater, and had the good
fortune to fall in love with Johanna Rahn, the aaughter
of the Inspector of weights and measures.

In March 1790, on the termination of his teaching
engagement at Zurich, Fichte went to Leipzig and, while
waiting for a suitable post, began to study Kant's philo-

C^ I ^ sophy for the first time, in order to give some lessons on

it to a pupil who had asked for them. This study revolu-
' tionized his ideas and converted him from determinism
to a belief in moral freedom and the inherent moral
worth of man. As a result of this he took the opportunity
of visiting Kant at Konigsberg in 1791, after an abortive
I journey to Warsaw where he had been engaged to act

\ 1 as private tutor to a Polish family. He was warmly

' t I received by the old philosopher, who approved of an

essay entitled Critique of all Revelation^ which Fichte had

\v |] I written and sent to him. This essay was published in

1792, after Fichte had gone, on Kant's recommendation,
to Danzig to act as tutor to the family of the Q>unt of

\ \ , Krockow. Owing to the publisher accidentally omitting

the author's name, the essay was taken for a work of Kant,
and Fichte's reputation was made. As a direct result of
this he was able to marry Johanna Rahn on October 22,


The tracts which the French Revolution inspired

^ Fichte to write at this time, and which established the
rights of the people on the basis of the inherent moral
freedom of man, increased his fame ; but at the same time
they caused moderate and conservative men to regard
him as a radical^^^and dangerous teacher. In spite of
this, however, he was called to succeed Reinhold as



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Professor of Philosophy at Jena in 1794.^ Here he won J
immediate success as a lecturer, owing undoubtedly in
great measure to the vigour of his thought and to his ^
moral intensity and practical earnestness. His enemies,
however, especially the bigoted supporters of the tradi-
tional constitution and of the established form of reli^on,
never ceased trying to undermine his position and to
secure his removal. They first complained that the
course of general moral lectures which he gave on Sunday
mornings was an attempt to overthrow Christianity and
to introduce the worship of reason in its stead ; but,
meeting with no success, they then attempted to turn
to his disadvantage the efforts which Fichte was making
to suppress the students' associations. Throughout these
negotiations Fichte, who saw that these associations were
productive of much harm, was animated solely by the
desire to develop and cultivate the moral and intellectual
powers of his pupils. Though again unsuccessful, his
enemies did not cease their attacks, and were at last
victorious. In an article which appeared in the PhUo*
sophicci Journal^ of which he had been joint editor ^^
since 1795, Fichte identified God with the moral order—
of the universe. Immediately his enemies raised the
cry of atheism against him ; the Saxon government
condemned the Journal and demanded Fichte's expulsion -
from Jena. The Grand Duke of Weimar would probably
have imposed merely a formal censure, but Fichte would
not submit to anything that he thought encroached
upon his liberty of teaching. He unwisely threatened to.
resign in case of reprimand, and his resignation was
accepted in 1799, much to his own discomfiture and the
delight of his enemies.

From Jena Fichte went to Berlin, where he was -^
welcomed by Schelling, the Schlegels, Schleiermachery A

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|. and other adherents of what is called the romantic

h school. Hie sentimental atmosphere and moral laxity

of this school, however, did not suit his austere character
and strict principles, and friendship gradually changed
to coldness and ultimately to antagonism. In 1805 he
was appointed .Professor at Erlangen, but the French
victories over the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt drove
him to East Prussia, where he lived at KOnigsberg from
1806 to 1807. During his stay there he studied, amongst
other things, the writings of Pestalozzi, whose Leonard
and Gertrude he had read and approved of as early as
^J^ .' , • 1788, and whose personality and teaching methods had

I \ much impressed him at their first meeting in 1793. The

p ; f Peace of Tilsit in July 1807 enabled him to return to

i^ J Berlin, and during the winter of 1 807-1 808 he disclosed

his views on the only true foundation of iiational pro-
sperity in the Addresses to the German Nation which he
delivered in the Academy building there. He also
drew up an elaborate and minute plan for the proposed
\V /ji new university at Berlin, and helped in its organization,

^^ " being appointed Professor in 1 8 10 and Rector in 181 1.

TTie latter office, however, he resigned after holding it
for only four months, his domineering manner preventing
any close co-operation with his colleagues. In 1 814 his
wife caught a fever while attending sick and wounded in
Berlin. Thanks to Fichte's devoted care she recovered,
but he was himself stricken with the same fever and died
on January 27, 1814.

Though short and thickset in build, Fichte had never-
theless an imposing presence ; this he undoubtedly
owed to his sharp commanding features, his keen piercing
eyes, and his high forehead surmounted by thick black
hair. In speech and movement alike he was quick,
impetuous, decisive, and energetic. Though inclined






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to be too abstract and very terse, he was a splendid. -
orator. He tried in every way to win his audience and
to make himself perfectly clear and intelligible to them ;
his voice was always attuned to the sentiments he ex-
pressed, and his delivery never laded clearness and ]
precision. His discourse swept on like the course of a
tempest, rousing rather than moving the souls of his
hearers and stirring them to their very depths. His
flights of imagination were great and mighty, and the
pictures he conjured up for his listeners, though seldom
charming, w^re always bold and massive ; his writings,
though they contained little that was particularly beauti-
ful, were always characterized by force and weight.
Appearance, speech, action — all bore witness to the
authority of the man and to the boldness and originality
of his spirit.

The most striking features of Fichte's character were
the intensity and resoluteness with which he maintained
his moral convictions, and his burning passion for activity.^
, He loved the truth. In 1792, at the very outset of hit
' career, he solemnly declared that he was devoting himself X
to truth, and throughout his life he maintained that
truth was the sole object of his inquiries, and that he
troubled himself very little about what was likely to
please his hearers or be disagreeable to them. As a
thinker, he sought first principles which were indubitably "
certain ; as a man, he loathed lies, hated compliments
and flattery, and told everyone the truth to his face.
Equally he loved liberty ; his whole life was spent in .
its pursuit and in its defence. His honesty was trans-
parent, his disinterestedness patent, and his kindne^
proverbial. As early as 1775 he declared that "a theft
is a theft and remains a theft.'' He treated the students
at Jena as honourable men, and understood how to

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appeal to what was best in them. He refused to canvas
for the chair at Jena, or to use the good offices of hi
friends to clear away possible obstacles. He would no
take fees from poor students, yet he always found room fo
them in his classes. He befriended the distressed ii
spite of the uncertainty of his own financial positior
and imposed no condition on them save that of absolut
secrecy. It is not surprising that his influence over th
students was so powerful, and that his friendship wa
regarded as an inestimable gift. Nor is it surprisin;
that, strengthened by the consciousness of the lofties
moral convictions, such a man in early life should hav
taken as his motto the words which Horace used in prais
of Caesar Augustus : —

^ Si fractus illabatur orbit^
Impavidum ferient ruinae.^

He was convinced that this world was a land not c
enjoyment, but of labour and toil, and that every jo
in life should be only a refreshment and an incentive t
greater effort. He felt that he must, therefore, not onl
think but act, and he confessed to one all-engrossin
passion, the desire to influence and ennoble his felloe
men, declaring that the more he acted the happier h
seemed to be. His spirit thirsted for opportunity t
do great things in the world, to enable him to purchas
by deeds his place in the human race.

Unfortunately Fichte showed most of the charactei
istic defects of these good qualities. He inherited froi
his mother a violent and impetuous nature which coi
verted his principles into passions and, coupled with h
absorbing desire for activity, caused him to be rash an
tactless. His passion for the truth made him suspicioi

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of the sincerity of others, impatient with those who did
not understand his teaching, and intolerant towards
those who did not admit its truth. Owing to the
fierceness with which he maintained his convictions he
always seemed despotic, uncompromising, and obstinate ; *
he himself admitted that one of the many qualities he
lacked was that of accommodating himself to those
around him and to people who were opposed to him in
character. The rigour of his principles was tempered
by few humane considerations and led men to regard
him as harsh and difficult. It was undoubtedly these
characteristics which set him at variance so often with
the authorities of the Church and of the State, and with
his colleagues at Jena and Berlin, and which allowed
it to be said of him, when he was Rector at the latter
place, that he had no measure in anything, and treated
the students for the smallest fault as though they were
imps of hell. The independence of his spirit caused him
to appear cold and proud ; and the cavalier manner in
which he dealt with illustrious predecessors and contem-
poraries, besides inducing Goethe and Schiller to nickname^^
him the " Absolute Ego " and the " Great Ego," earned
for him the reputation of being conceited, and sometimes
shocked the feelings of the most friendly-disposed
persons. Thus it was no rare thing to hear him say:
** Here Kant, here Reinhold is wrong, and in this I have
surpassed them ** ; or,. ** No one has understood Kant ; -
there is only one way to understand him, that which I
have explained."

He had little finesse, tact, or prudence, and could,
therefore, seldom brook contradiction or interference.
When attacks were made upon him he was very rash
and retaliated in the most provoking way, sometimes even
letting himself go into violent fits of passion. This

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inevitably aroased opposition and resentment again
him, and led him to commit many blunders, which eve
his best friends could not deny, and which caused Schill<
to allude to him as ** the richest source of absurdities^
Thus, when the cry of atheism was raised against him i
Jena, the violent threatening letter which he wrote t
the minister, Voigt, irritated the Weimar governmei
intensely, alienated the sympathies of many influent!
men, and effectively put an end to all possibility <
retaining him at the University.

The fourteen Addresses to the German Nation we
delivered by Fichte during the winter of 1 807-1 808 ;
the great hall of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin befo
crowded audiences, and were published in April 180
Before attempting to estimate their significance ai
importance, it is necessary to consider the circumstanc
under which they were delivered. In 1806 Napolec
began his campaign against Prussia which, almost aloi
among the German States, still maintained its indepen<
ence. War was declared on October 9, and on the 14
the Prussians were severely defeated at Jena and Aue
stadt. So overwhelming were these defeats that furth
opposition was impossible; on October 25 Napole<
entered Berlin and, one after another, the Prussi:
fortresses fell into his hands. Fichte left Berlin hurried
on October 18 and fled to East Prussia, remaining
Kdnigsberg during the winter. The Russians, who h;
come to the aid of the overwhelmed. Prussians, fought
drawn battle with the French at Eylau on February
1807, but were beaten at Friedland on June 14, ai
^ade peace with France at Tilsit on July 8, i8c
The net results of the treaty for Prussia were that s
was deprived of much of her territory and was fore
to maintain French garrisons in her fortresses, ' p

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large sums of money to France, and reduce her army
to 42,000 men.

Fichte returned to Berlin at the end of August, i8o7^ "^
to find Prussia completely humiliated and. the Frendn
troops still in occupation of the city. Like many other
heroic souls, however, he could not believe that all was
over with Germany ; and just as Stein set himself to
reform the land laws, and Schamhorst the military
organization, so Fichte took upon himself the task of -^ '
arousing the German people to new life by his Addressis \
to the German Nation. Such a course demanded con* '
siderable courage and determination, for the Addresses "
maintained the ideals of liberty and justice against the
despotism of Napoleon in the very face of the French
army of occupation. Yet the attitude of the French
authorities to the Addresses was one of complete indiflPer*
ence ; probably, as Fichte said, they considered education
too insignificant and harmless a matter for them to worry
about. Even among Ficl^te's fellow-countrymen there
were no doubt many who, like the French authorities,
were completely indifferent ; others perhaps did not—
really understand a good deal of what the Addresses
contained, and it was probably the lecturer's presence,
delivery, and force of character, as much as what he said,
which influenced public opinion at the time so profoundly
as to draw from Stein the comment that the Addresses
^^ had a great effect upon the feelings of the cultivated
class/' Whatever the real cause, however, it is certain
that the Addresses were a. powerful factor in the creation '
of that national spirit which appeared for the first time -
in the War of Liberation of 1813-1815.

Some of the ideas and opinions expressed in the Ad-
dresses are obviously false and cannot be accepted, while
others are gross exaggerations and require considerable

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modification. Little comment need be made on.Fichte's
conception of the German language as the sole living
language, or on his notion of the part that Germany
has played and must still play in the process of the sal-
vation of the world. xHis whole-hearted enthusiasm for
things German inclines him at times to regard everything
genuinely German as necessarily good, and everything
^ foreign as necessarily bad. It is obvious what evil results
\^7^ would accrue from the logical development of such a
conception. « He greatly exaggerates the part played by

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 1 of 22)