Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

. (page 10 of 22)
Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 10 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

> .


from the existing language ; they exaggerated in Asiatic
and rhetorical fashion and were intended to have what-
ever validity they could ; they reckoned on more than
due deduction being made in any case, b^it were never
seriously measured, weighed, or intended. The Reforma-
tion took them with German seriousness at their full
weight ; it was right in thinking that everything should
be taken thus, but wrong in thinking that the others had

^actually so taken it, and in blaming them for anything
more than their natural superficiality and lack of thorough-
ness. In general, we may say that this is what always

^happens in every conflict of German seriousness with the
foreign spirit, whether the latter is found in foreign or
in German lands ; the ioreign spirit is quite unable to
comprehend how anyone can wish to raise such a great

' to-do about unimportant things like words and phrases..

^Foreigners, when they hear it again from German mouths,
deny that they said what they did in fact say, and what
they go on saying and always will say. So they complain
of calumny, or pushing consistency too far, as they call
it, when one takes their utterances in their literal sense
and as seriously intended, and treats them as part of a
logical sequence of thought, which one traces back to
its principles and forward to its conclusions ; although
one is perhaps very far from attributing to them in person
a clear consciousness of what they say or any logical
consistency. In the demand that one must take every-
thing as it is meant, but not go further and call in.question
the right to have opinions and to express them — ^in that
demand the foreign spirit always betrays itself, however
deeply it may be concealed.

77. The seriousness with which the old system of
religious doctrine was now taken compelled this system
itself to be more serious than it had been hitherto,

Digitized by



and to undertake a new examination, interpretation, and
consolidation of the old doctrine and practice for the
future. Let this, and the example that is to follow, be
to you an illustration of the way in which Germany hat
always reacted on the rest of Europe. The general
result was that the old doctrine thus obtained, at any rate,
such innocuous efficacy as was possible to it, once it had
been resolved not to abandon it altogether. But in
particular, to those who supported it, it became an oppor-
tunity for, and a challenge to, more thorough and consistent
reflection than had been given to it before. The doc-
trine, thus reformed in Germany, spread into the neo-
Latin countries and there produced the same result, viz.,
a loftier enthusiasm ; but, as this phenomenon was tran-
sitory, we shall say no more about it here. It is, how-
. ever, noteworthy that in none of the entirely neo-Latin
countries did the new doctrine obtain permanent recog-
I nition by the State, for it seems that German thoroughness
/ among the rulers and German good-nature among the
I people were needed, if this doctrine was to be found
\ compatible and made compatible with the supreme

78. Un another respect, however, Germany exercised a.
general and permanent influence on other countries—
though, indeed, not on the common people, but on the
educated classes — by its reformation of the ChurchT?
By means of this influence Germany once more made
other countries its forerunners and its instigators to
new creations. Free and spontaneous thinking, or philo- ^
sophy, had frequently been stimulated and practised in
the preceding centuries under the dominion of the old
doctrine ; not, however, to bring forth truth out of
itself, but solely to show that the doctrine of the Church
was true and in what way it was true. Among the

Digitized by V:iOOQIC

<.' .


j: , [German Protestants, philosophy was at first given the

'j same task in regard to their doctrine, and with them it

I became the handmaid of the gospel, just as with the

I Schoolmen it had been the handmaid of the Church.

In foreign countries, which either had no gospel or else
j had not apprehended it with pure German devotion and

\ depth of soul, this free-thinking, fanned into flame by the

brilliant triumph it had achieved, rose higher and more
easily, unfettered by a belief in the supersensuous. It
remained fettered, however, by a belief of the senses in
the natural understanding [Ferstand] that develops
without mental or moral training. Far from discovering
in «hi reason [Femunft] the source of truth which rests
upon itself, the utterances of this raw understanding
were to this way of thinking exactly what the Church
was for the Schoolmen and the gospel for the first Protes-
tant theologians. As to whether they were true, not the
slightest doubt was raised ; the only question was how
they could maintain this truth against hostile assertions.

But, as this way of thinking did not even enter the
domain of the reason, whose opposition would have been
more important, it found no opponent except the exist-
'^ ing historical religion. This it easily disposed of by

applying to it the measure of understanding or common
sense, which was presupposed, and thereby proving to
its own satisfaction that this religion was in direct con-
tradiction to the latter. Hence it came about that,
as soon as all this was made quite plain, the word '^ philo-
sopher " became synonymous with " irreligious atheist "
in foreign countries, and both designations served as
equally honourable marks of distinction.
- 79* Hiis attempt at complete emancipation from all
belief in external authority, which was the right thing
about these struggles in foreign countries, acted as a fresh

Digitized by V:iOOQIC

i '



I stimulus to the Germans, from whom it had first pro-
1 ceeded by means of the reformation of the Church. It
is true that second-rate and unoriginal minds among us
simply repeated this foreign doctrine — ^better the foreign
doctrine, it seems, than the doctrine of their fellow-
countrymen, though this was to be. had just at easily ;
the reason being that they took the former to be more
distinguished — ^and these minds tried to convince them-
selves about it, so far as that was possible. But where
ue independent German spirit was astir, the sensuous
was not enough, and there arose the problem of dis-
covering the supersensuous (which is, of course, not to be
believed in on external authority) in the reason itself^ . /
and thus of creating for the first time true philosophy^"
by making free thought the source of independent truth, i
as it should be. To that end Leibniz strove in his
conflict with that foreign philosophy ;' and the end was
attained by the true founder of modern German philo-
sophy,* not without a confession of having been aroused
to it by the utterance of a foreigner, which had, however,!!
been taken more profoundly than it had been intended.!!
Since that tin\e the problem has been completely solved
among us, aiid philosophy has been perfected.; One must-
be content for the present with stating this as a fact,
until an age comes which comprehends it. On this
condition, the result once more would be the creation
in the German mother-country, on the stimulus of
antiquity which has come to it through neo-Latin lands,
of a new age such as never existed before.

80. We, their contemporaries, have seen how the
inhabitants of a foreign country* took up lightly, and

* [Rant, who confessed to having been roused from hit ^ dogmatk
slumber " b^ Hume.]

* [The reference it to the French Revolution.]

Digitized by V:iOOQIC ■




with fervent daring, another problem of reason and philo-
sophy for the modern world — the establishment of the

perfect State. But, shortly afterwards, they abandoned
this task so completely that they are compelled by their
present condition to condemn the very thought of the
problem as a crime, and they had to use every means to
delete, if possible, those efforts from the annals of their
history. The reason for this result is as clear as day;
the State in accordance with reason cannot be built up
by artificial measures from whatever material may be
at hand ; on the contrary, the nation must first be trained
and educated up to it. Cmly the nation which has
first solved in actual practice the problem of educating
perfect men will then solve also the problem of the
perfect State?>
"^ Since our reformation of the Church, the last-men-
tioned problem of education has more than once been
attempted by foreign countries in a spirited fashion,
but in accordance with their own philosophy ; and among
us a first result of their efforts has been to stimulate
some to imitation and exaggeration. To what point the
German spirit once more has finally brought this matter
in our days we shall relate in more detail at the proper

8i. In what has been said you have a clear conspectus
of the whole history of culture in the modern world,
and of the never-varying relationship of the different
parts of the modern world to the world of antiquity.
True religion, in the form of Christianity, was the germ of
the modern world ; and the task of the latter may be
summed up as follows : to make this religion permeate

/ the previous culture of antiquity and thereby to spiritualize
and hallow it. The first step on this path was to rid
this religion of the external respect of form which robbed



Digitized by V:iOOQIC



it of freedom, and to introduce into it also the free-
thinking of antiquity. Jporeign countries provided the
stimulus to this step ; the German took the step^ The
second step, which is really the continuation*
pletion of the first, namely, to discover in our own selves •
this religion, and with it all wisdom — this, too, was pre-
pared by foreign countries and completed by the German.
The next step forward that we have to make in the plan]
of eternity is to educate the nation to perfect manhood. |^ -
Without this, the philosophy that has been won will never
be widely comprehended, much less will it be generally
applicable in life. On the other hand, and in the same
way, the art of education will never attain complete /
clearness in itself without philosophy. Hence, there it
an interaction between the two, and either without the
other is incomplete and unserviceable, ^f only because
the German has hitherto brought to completion all the
steps of culture and has been preserved in the modern
world for that special purpose, it will be his work, too, in
respect of educationT] But, when education has once been
set in order, the same will follow easily with the other
concerns of humanity.

82. This, then, is the actual relationship in which the^
German nation has hitherto stood with regard to the
development of the human race in the modern age. We
have still to throw more light upon an observation,
which has already been made twice, as to the natural
course of development which events have taken with our>
nation, viz., that in Germany all culture has proceeded}
from the people. That the reformation of the ChurcU
was first brought before the people, and that it succeeded
only because it became their affair, we have already seen.\
But we have further to show that this single case was not
an exception ; it has, on the contrary, been the rule.

Digitized by V3OOQ IC '

• J


i : i )


83. The Germans who remained in the motherland
had retained all the virtues of which their country had
formerly been the home — ^loyalty, uprightness, honour,
and simplicity ; but of training to a higher and intellectual
life they had received no more than could be brought by
the Christianity of that period and its teachers to men
whose dwellings were scattered. This was but little :
hence, they were not so advanced as their racial kinsmen
who had emigrated. Tlicy were in fact good and honest,
it is true, but none the less semi-barbarians. There arose
among them, however, cities erected by members of
the people. In these cities every branch of culture
quickly developed into the fairest bloom. In them arose
civic constitutions and organizations which, though but
on a small scale, were none the less of high excellence ;
and, proceeding from them, a picture of order and a love
of it spread throughout the rest of the country. Their
extensive commerce helped to discover the world.
Their league was feared by kings. The monuments of
their architecture are standing at the present day and have
defied the ravages of centuries; before them posterity
* stands in admiration and confesses its own impotence.
.. 84. It is not my intention to compare these burghers
of the German imperial cities in the Middle Ages writh the
other estates of the same period, nor to ask what was being
done at that time by the nobles and the princes. /But,
in comparison with the other Teutonic nations — Cleaving
out of account some districts of Italy, and in the fine arts
the Germans did not lag behind even these, whereas in
the useful arts they surpassed them and became their
^ tgachers — Cleaving these out of account, I say that the
German burghers_w£xs^ the civilized people, and the
others the T^arbarians,.. The history of Germany, of
German might, German enterprise and inventions, of


Digitized by V:iOOQIC


German monuments and the German spirit — ^the history
of all these things during that period is nothing but the
history of those cities ; and everything else, for example
the mortgaging of petty territories and their subsequent
redemption and so on, is unworthy of mention. More-
over, this period is the only one in German history in t
which this nation is famous and brilliant, and holds the
rank to which, as the parent stock, it is entitled^ At
soon as its bloom is destroyed by the avarice and tyranny
of princes, and as soon as its freedom is trodden under-
foot, the whole nation gradually sinks lower and lower,
until the condition is reached in which we are at present*
But, as Germany sinks, the rest of Europe is seen to sink
with it, if we regard, not the mere external appearance,
but the 80ulJ[

' The decisive influence of this burgher class,^'^ich was
in fact the ruling power, upon the development of the
German imperial constitution, upon the reformation
of the Church, and upon everything that ever character-
ized the German nation and thence took its way abroad,
is everywhere unmistakable ; and it can be proved that
everything which is still worthy of honour among the
Germans has arisen in its midst. x^

85. In what spirit did this German burgher class ^
bring forth and enjoy this period of bloom ? In the
spirit of piety, of honour, of modesty, and of the sense
of community. For themselves they needed little;
for public enterprises they set no limits to their expen- '^
diture. Seldom does the name of an individual stand
out or distinguish itself, for they were all of like mind
and alike in sacrifice for the common weal. Under
precisely the same external conditions as in Germany,
free cities had arisen in Italy also. Compare the his-
tories of both ; contrast the continual disorders, the

,• •


Digitized by V:iOOQIC


1 .

? I


internal conflicts, nay, even wars, the constant change of
constitutions and rulers in the latter with the peaceful
unity and conCbrd in the former. How could it be more
clearly demonstrated that there must have been an
inward difference in the dispositions of the two nations ?
The German nation is the only one among the neo-
European nations that has shown in practice, by the
example of its burgher class for centuries, that it is capable

I of enduring a republican constitution.

86. Of the separate and special means of once more
raising the German spirit a very powerful one would be

^ in our hands if we had a soul-stirring history of the
Germans in that period — one that would become a book
for the nation and for the people, just as the Bible and
the hymn-book are now, until the time came when we
ourselves had again achieved something worthy of record.
But such a history should not set forth deeds and events
after the fashion of a chronicle ; it should transport us
. by its fascinating power, without any effort or clear con-
sciousness on our part, into the very midst of the life of
that time, so that we ourselves should seem to be walking
and standing and deciding and acting with them. * This
it should do, not by means of childish and trumpery
fabrications, as so many historical novels have done, but
by the truth ; and it should make those deeds and events
visible manifestations of the life of that time. Such a
work, indeed, could only be the fruit of extensive know-
ledge and of investigations that have, perhaps, never yet
been made ; but the author should spare us the exhibi-
tion of this knowledge and these investigations, and simply
lay the ripened fruit before us in the language of the
present day and in a manner that every, German without
exception could understand. In addition to this historical
knowledge, such a work would demand a high degree of

Digitized by V:iOOQIC



philosophical spirit, which should display itself just as
little, and above all things a faithful and loving disposition.

87. That age was the nation's youthful dream, within)
a narrow sphere, of its future deeds and conflicts and!
victories, and the prophecy of^what it would be once
it had perfected its strength. Evil associations and the
seductive power of vanity have'^swept the growing nation
into spheres which are not its own ; and, because it there
sought glory too, it stands to-day covered with shame
and fighting for its very lifeTZ But has it indeed grown
old and feeble ? Has not the well of ori^nal life con*
tinned to flow for it, as for no other nation, since then
and until to-day ? Can those prophecies of its youthful
life, which are confirmed by the condition of other
nations and by the plan of civilization for all humanity —
can they remain unfulfilled ? Impossible ! O, that
someone would bring back this nation from its false path,
and in the mirror of its youthful dreams show it its true
disposition and its true vocation ! There let it stand
and ponder, until it develops the power to take up its*/^
vocation with a mighty hand. May this challenge be
of some avail in bringing out right soon a German man
equipped to perform this preliminary task ! ^ -

Digitized by VjOOQ IC . .



■" i


I ■
I •


4 i'



88. In the preceding addresses we have indicated and
proved from history the characteristics of the Germans
as an original people, and as a people that has the right
SP^call itself simply jhe p eople, in contrast to other
branches that have been torn away from it ; for, indeed,
the word ** deutsch " in its real signification denotes
what we have just said. It will be in accordance with
our purpose if we devote another hour to this subject
and deal with a possible objection, viz., that if this is
something peculiarly German one must confess that at
the present time there is but little left that is German
among the Germans themselves. As we are quite
unable to deny that this appears to be so, but rather
intend to acknowledge it and to take a complete view of
it in its separate parts, we propose to give an explana-
tion of it at the outset.

89. We have seen that the relationship in which the
original people of the modern world stood to the progress
of modern culture was as follows : the former received
from the incomplete, and never more than superficial,
efforts of foreign countries the first stimulus to more
profound creative acts, which were to be developed from
its own midst. As it undoubtedly takes time for the

Digitized by V:iOOQIC


stimulus to result in a creative act, it is plain that such'
a relationship will bring about periods of time in which
the original people must seem to be almost entirely
amalgamated with foreign peoples and similar to themJ
because it is then being stimulated only, and the creative;' ;
act which is to be the result has not yet forced its way\
through. It is in such a period of time that Germany'
finds itself at the present moment in regard to the great
majority of its educated inhabitants ; and that is the
reason for those manifestations of a love of everything
foreign which are a part of the very inner soul and life
of this majority. In the preceding address we saw that
the means by which foreign countries stimulate their
motherland at the present time is philosophy, which we
defined as free-thinking released from all fetters of belief
in external authority. Now, when this stimulus has not
resulted in a new creative act — ^and it will result thus in
extremely few cases, for the great majority have no con-
ception of what creation means — ^the following effects are
observable. For one thing, that foreign philosophy
which we have already described changes its own form
again and again. Another thing is that its spirit usurps
the mastery over the other sciences whose borders are^
contiguous with philosophy, and regards them from its
own point of view. Finally, since the German after all
can never entirely lay aside his seriousness and its direct
influence on life, this philosophy influences the habits
of public life and the principles and rules that govern it.
We shall substantiate these assertions step by step.
^ 90.^irst of all and before all things: man does not
(form his scientific view in a particular way voluntarily
and arbitrarily, but it is formed for him by his life, and
is in reality the inner, and to him unknown, root of his
own life, which has become his way of looking at thingtJ

1 -^

Digitized by V:iOOQIC




J '

It is what you really are in your inmost soul that stands
forth to your outward eye, and you would never be able
to see anything else. If you are to see differently, you
must first of all become different. Now, the inner essence
of non-German ways, or of non-originality, is the belief
in something that is final, fixed, and settled beyond the
possibility of change, the belief in a border-line, on the
hither side of which free life may disport itself, but which
it is never able to break through and dissolve by its own
power, and which it can never make part of itself. This
impenetrable border-line is, therefore, inevitably present
to the eyes of foreigners at some place or other, and it is
impossible for them to think or believe except with such
a border-line as a presupposition, unless their whole
nature is to be transformed and their heart torn out of
their body, ^liey inevitably believe in death as Alpha and
Omega, the ultimate source of all things and, therefore,
of Ufe itselTf

91. Our first task here is to show how this fundamental
belief of foreigners expresses itself among Germans at
the present time.

;It expresses itself first of all in their own philosophy.

German philosophy of the present day, in so far as it is

worthy of mention here, strives for thoroughness and

scientific form, regardless of the fact that those things

are beyond its reach ; it_ strives for unity, and that also

not without the example of foreign countries in former

times ; it strives for reality and essence — not for mere

appearance, but to find for this appearance a foundation

/ appearing in appearance. In all these points it is right,

and far surpasses the philosophies prevailing in foreign

f "countries at the present day ; for German philosophy in

\ its love of everything foreign is far more thorough and

[ more consistent than the foreign countries themselves.

Digitized by




Now this foundation, which is to be the basis of mere
appearance, is for those philosophies, however much more
incorrectly they may further define it, always fixed Beings
which is just what it is and nothing more, chained in
itself and bound to its own essence, ^cath, therefore,
and alienation from originality, which are within them,

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 10 of 22)