Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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above all is the mark of a religious disposition, viz., to
fight against slavery and, as far as possible, to prevent

jreligion from sinking into a mere consolation for captives.
No doubt it suits the tyrant well to preach religious
resignation and to bid those look to heaven to whom he
allows not the smallest place on earth. ^ But we for our
part must be in less haste to adopt this view of religion
that he recommends ; and we niust, if we can, prevent
earth from being made into a hell in order to arouse a
greater longing for heaven.^?

^ . 112. The natural impulse of man, which should be

abandoned only in case of real necessity, is to find heaven
on this earth, and to endow his daily work on earth with

"^ permanence and eternity ; to plant and to cultivate the
eternal in the temporal — not merely in an incomprehen-
sible fashion or in a connection with the eternal that seems
to mortal eye an impenetrable gulf, but in a fashion

V^visible to the mortal eye itself.

Let me begin with an example that everyone will under-
stand. What man of noble mind is there who does not
earnestly wish to relive his own life in a new and better
way in his children and his children's children, and to con-
tinue to live on this earth, ennobled and perfected in their
lives, long after he is dead i Does he not wish to snatch

. from the jaws of death the spirit, the mind, and the moral
tense by virtue of which, perchance, he was in the days

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of his life a terror to wrongdoing and corruption, and
by which he supported righteousness, aroused men from
indolence, and lifted them out of their depression i Does
he not wish to deposit these qualities, as his best legacy
to posterity, in the souls of those he leaves behind, so
that they too, in their turn, may some day hand them on
again, increased and made more beautiful i What man of
noble mind is there who does not want to scatter, by
action or thought, a grain of seed for the unending
progress in perfection of his race, to fling something new
and unprecedented into time, that it may remain there
and become the inexhaustible source of new creations f
Does he not wish to pay for his place on this earth and
the. short span of time allotted to him with something
that even here below will endure for ever, so that he, the
individual, although unnamed in history (for the thirst ^
for posthumous fame is contemptible vanity), may yet in
his own consciousness and his faith leave behind him
unmistakable memories that he, too, was a dweller on the
earth ? What man of noble mind is there, I said, who
does not want this ? But only according to the needs of
noble-minded men is the world to be regarded and
arranged ; as they are, so all men ought to be, and for
their sake alone does a world exist. They are its kernel,
and those of other mind exist only for their sake, being
themselves only a part of the transitory world so long
as they are of that. mind. Such men must conform to
the vnshes of the noble-minded until they have become
like them.

113. Now, what is it that could warrant this challenge
and this faith of the noble-minded man in the perman-
ence and eternity of his work ? Obviously nothing
but an order of things which he can acknowledge as in
itself eternal and capable of taking up into itself that which

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j{ 18 eternal. Such an order of things, however, is the special

'I spiritual nature of human environment which, although

j indeed it is not to be comprehended in any conception,

! nevertheless truly exists, and from which he himself, with

'< all his thoughts and deeds and with his belief in their

I . eternity, has proceeded — ^the people, from which he is

descended and among which he was educated and grew

I up to be what he now is. For, though it is true beyond

dispute that his work, if he rightly claims it to be eternal,

is in no wise the mere result of the spiritual law of nature

; of his nation or absolutely the same thing as this result,

4 but on the contrary is something more than that and in

so far streams forth directly from original and divine life ;

it is, nevertheless, equally true that this * something more,'

immediately on its first embodiment in a visible form,

\ ' submitted itself to that special spiritual law of nature and

. ) found sensuous expression for itself only according to that

1 law. So long as this people exists, every further revelation

... of the divine will appear and take shape in that people

in accordance with the same natural law. But this law

I itself is further determined by the fact that this man

! existed and worked as he did, and his influence has become

I a permanent part of this law. Hence, everything that

follows will be bound to submit itself to, and connect

itself writh, that law. So he is sure that the improvement

achieved by him remains in his people so long as the

people itself remains, and that it becomes a permanent

determining factor in the evolution of his people.

114. This, then, is a people in the higher meaning of j

the word, when viewed from the standpoint of a spiritual

world : the totality of men continuing to live in society

• ^ V with each other and continually creating themselves

^ ! naturally and spiritually out of themselves; a totality

> that arises together out of the divine under a certain


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special law of divine development. It is the subjection
in common to this special law that unites this mass in
the eternal world, and therefore in the temporal also,
to a natural totality permeated by itself. The significance
of this law itself can indeed be comprehended as a whole,
as we have comprehended it by the instance of the
Germans as an original people ; it can even be better
understood in many of its further provisions by consider-
ing the manifestations of such a people ; but it can never
be completely grasped by the mind of anyone, for everyone
continually remains under its influence unknown to him-
self, although, in general, it can be clearly seen that such a
law exists. This law is a * something more * of the world of
images, that coalesces absolutely in the phenomenal world
with the Something more* of the world of originality
that cannot be imaged ; hence, in the phenomenal world
neither can be separated again from the other. vlTiat
[law determines entirely and completes what has been
I called the national character of a people — that law of the
development of the original and divine. 1 From this it is
clear that men who, as is the case with what we have
described as the foreign spirit, do not believe at all in
something original nor in its continuous development, but
only in an eternal recurrence of apparent life, and who
by their belief become what they believe, are in the highef^
sense not a people at all. As they in fact, properly
speaking, do not exist, they are just as little capable of
having a national character.

115. The noble-minded man's belief in the eternal
continuance of his influence even on this earth is thus
founded on the hope of the eternal continuance of. the
people from which he has developed, and on the character-
istic of that people as indicated in the hidden law of
which we have spoken, without admixture of, or corruption


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by, any alien element which does not belong to the totality
of the functions of that law. This characteristic is the
eternal thing to which he entrusts the eternity of himself
and of his continuing influence, the eternal order of
things in which he places his portion of eternity ; he
must will its continuance, for it alone is to him the means

\by which the short span of his life Jiere below j(s extended
into continuous life here below. " His belief and his struggle
to plant what is permanent, his conception in which he
comprehends his own life as an eternal life, is the bond
which unites first his own nation, and then, through
his nation, the whole human race, in a most intimate
fashion with himself, and brings all their needs within
his widened sympathy until the end of time. \ This is
his love for his people, respecting, trusting, andrejoicing
in it, and feeling honoured by descent from it. The
divine has appeared in it, and that which is original has
deemed this people worthy to be made its vesture and
its means of directly influencing the world ; for this
reason there will be further manifestations of the divine
in it. Hence, the noble-minded man will be active and
effective, and will sacrifice himself for his people. Life
merely as such, the mere continuance of changing exis-

V tence, has in any case never had any value for him ; he
has wished for it only as the source of what is permanent.
But this permanence is promised to him only by the

wcontinuous and independent existence of his nation.
In order to save his nation he must be ready even to die
that it may live, and that he may live in it the only life
for which he has ever wished.

116. So it is. Love that is truly love, and not a mere

N:ransitory 1 never clings to what is transient; only
in the et^ ^ ioes it awaken and become kindled, and
there alone uoes it rest. Man is not able to love even

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himself unless he conceives himself as eternal ; apart from
that he cannot even respect, much less approve of, him-
self. Still less can he love anything outside himself
without taking it up into the eternity of his faith and of
his soul and binding it thereto. He who does not first,
regard himself as eternal has in him no love of any kind, \
and, moreover, cannot love a fatherland, a thing which for \
him does not exist. He who regards his invisible life as I
eternal, but not his visible life as similarly eternal, may
perhaps have a heaven and therein a fatherland, but
here below he has no fatherland, for this, too, is regarded
only in the image of eternity — eternity visible and made
sensuous — and for this reason also he is unable to love hit
fatherland. If none has been handed down to such a
man, he is to be pitied. But he to whom a fatherland
has been handed down, and in whose soul heaven and
earth, visible and invisible meet and mingle, and thus,
and only thus, create a true and enduring heaven — such
a man fights to the last drop of his blood to hand on
the precious possession unimpaired to his posterity.

So it always has been, although it has not always been
expressed in such general terms and so clearly as we
express it here. What inspired the men of noble mind
among the Romans, whose frame of mind and way of
thinking still live and breathe among iis in their works of
art, to struggles and sacrifices, to patience and endurance
for the fatherland ? They themselves express it often
and distinctly. 4t was their firm belief in the eternal ,:i V-
continuance of their Roma, and their confident expecta-
tion that they themselves would eternally continue to
live in this eternity in the stream of time! In so far as
this belief was well founded, and they themselves would
have comprehended it if they had been entirely clear
in their own minds, it did not deceive them. To this

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very day there still lives in our midst what was truly
eternal in their eternal Roma ; they themselves live with
^ it, and its consequences will continue to live to the very
end of time.

117. People and fatherland in this sense, as a support
and guarantee of eternity on earth and as that which
can be eternal here below, far transcend the State in the
ordinary sense of the word, viz., the social order as compre-
hended by mere intellectual conception and as established
and maintained under the guidance of this conception.
/ The aim of the State is positive law, internal peace, and
a condition of affairs in which everyone may by diligence
earn his daily bread and satisfy the needs of his material
existence, so long as God permits him to live. All this
, is only a means, a condition, and a framework for what
love of fatherland really wants, viz., that the eternal and
j ' ■ the divine may bloss om in th e world and nev«F- cease

; ' to become more and more pure, perfect, and excellent.

That is why this love of fatherland must itself govern the
State and be the supreme, final, and absolute authority.
j , Its first exercise of this aufhority will be to limit the

1 \ State's choice of means to secure its immediate object

— internal peace. To attain this object, the natural
I freedom of the individual must, of course, be limited in
"Lmany ways. If the only consideration and intention in
regard to individuals were to secure internal peace, it
would be well to limit that liberty as much as possible,
to bring all their activities under a uniform rule, and to
keep them under unceasing supervision. Even supposing
such strictness were unnecessary, it could at any rate do
no harm, if this were the sole object. It is only the higher
view of the human race and of peoples which extends this
narrow calculation. Freedom, including freedom in the
activities of external life, is the soil in which higher culture



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germinates ; a legislation which keeps the higher culture
in view will allow to freedom as wide a field as possible^
even at the risk of securing a smaller degree of uniform
peace and quietness, and of making the work of govern-
ment a little harder and more troublesome.

118. To illustrate this by an example. It has happened
that nations have been told to their face that they do not
need so much freedom as many other nations do. It may •
even be that the form in which the opinion is expressed

is considerate and mild, if what is really meant is that the •
particular nation would be quite unable to stand so much
freedom, and that nothing but extreme severity could
prevent its members from destroying each other. But^
when the words are taken as meaning what they say, they
are true only on the supposition that such a nation is
thoroughly incapable of having original life or even the
impulse towards it. Such a nation — ^if a nation could
exist in which there were not even a few men of noble mind
to make an exception to the general rule — would in fact
need no freedom at all, for this is needed only for the
higher purposes that transcend the State. It needs only
to be tamed and trained, so that the individuals may live
peaceably with each other and that the whole may be
made into an efficient instrument for arbitrary purposes
in which the nation as such has ho part. Whether
this can be said with truth of any nation at all we may
leave undecided ;. this much is clear, that an original j^
people needs freedom, that this is the security for its
continuance as an original people, and that, as it goes on, -^
it is able to stand an ever-increasing degree of freedom
/ without the slightest danger. This is the first matter in
' respect of which love of fatherland must govern the State
' itself.

119. Then, too, it must be love of fatherland that

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• governs the State by placing before it a higher object

f| than the usual one of maintaining internal peace, property,

i' , personal freedom, and the life and well-being of all.

i. ^ For this higher object alone, and with no other intention,

does the State assemble an armed force. When the
question arises of making use of this, when the call comes
to stake everything that the State, in the narrow concep-
! tion of the word, sets before itself as object, viz., property,

personal freedom, life, and well-being, nay, even the
continued existence of the State itself; when the call
comes to make an original decision with responsibility
V :^ ; to God alone, and without a clear and reasonable idea

I that what is intended will surely be attained — for this

^ ' is never possible in such matters — then, and then only,

; ^ does there live at the helm of the State a truly original

\ and primary life, and at this point, and not before, the true

^ ! sovereign rights of government enter, like God, to hazard

the lower life for the sake of the higher. In the main-
tenance of the traditional constitution, the laws, and civil
prosperity there is absolutely no real true life and no
v^ j j)riginal decision. Conditions and circumstances, and

! legislators perhaps long since dead, have created these

<i • things ; succeeding ages go on faithfully in the paths

.^ ' marked out, and so in fact they have no public life of

\ : . their own ; they merely repeat a life that once existed.

. * ^ In such times there is no need of any real government.

But, when this regular course is endangered, and it is a
question of making decisions in new and unprecedented
cases, then there is need of a life that lives of itself. What
> ' * spirit is it that in such cases may place itself at the helm,

that can make its own decisions with sureness and cer-
' ^ tainty, untroubled by any hesitation ? What spirit has an

\ undisputed right to summon and to order everyone con-

cerned, whether he himself be willing or not, and to


I ore

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compel anyone who resists, to risk everything including
his life i Not the spirit of the peaceful citizen's love
for the constitution and the lavirs, but the devouring^ «
flame of higher patriotism, which embraces the nation
as the vesture of the eternal, for which the noble-minded
man joyfully sacrifices himself, and the ignoble man, who
only exists for the sake of the other, must likewise sacri-
fice himself. It is not that love of the citizen for the
constitution ; that love is quite unable to achieve this^
so long as it remains on the level of the understanding.
Whatever turn events may take, since it pays to govelii
they will always have a ruler over them. Suppose the new
ruler even wants to introduce slavery (and what is slavery
if not the disregard for, and suppression of, the character-
istic of an original people ? — but to that way of thinking \ k
such qualities do not exist), suppose he wants to introduce
slavery. Then, since it is profitable to preserve the life . . ^
of slaves, to maintain their numbers and even their wdl-'
being, slavery under him will turn out to be bearable if ^ f
he is anything of a calculator. Their life and their . • \\
keep, at any rate, they will always find. Then what is I
there left that they should fight for ? After those two
things it is peace which they value more than anything.
But peace will only be disturbed by the continuance of
the struggle. They will, therefore, do anything just to « "
put an end to the fighting, and the sooner the better ;
they will submit, they will yield ; and why should they
not ? All they have ever been concerned about, and all
they have ever hoped from life, has been the continuation
of the habit of existing under tolerable conditions. Hie
[promise of a life here on earth extending beyond the period^
I of life here on earth — that alone it is which can inspire
kmen even unto death for the fatherland.

120. So it has been hitherto. Wherever there hat

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j^' been true government, wherever bitter struggles have

if been endured, wherever victory has been won in the face

i' of mighty opposition, there it has been that promise of

1 eternal life which governed and struggled and won the

victory. Believing in that promise the German Pro-

4 ; ^ testants, already mentioned in these addresses, entered

upon the struggle. Do you think they did not know that
peoples could be governed by that old belief too, and held
together in law and order, and that under the old belief
men could procure a comfortable existence ? Why, then,
did their princes decide upon armed resistance, and why

[4 did the peoples enthusiastically make such resistance ?

. i It was for heaven and for eternal bliss that they willingly

poured out their blood. But what earthly power could

have penetrated to the Holy of holies in their souls and

\ rooted out their belief — a belief which had been revealed

pi to them once for all, and on which alone they based their

hope of bliss ? Thus it was not their own bUss for which

they fought ; this was already assured to them ; it was

; the bliss of their children and of their grandchildren as

^ yet unborn and of all posterity as yet unborn. These,

I too, should be brought up in that same doctrine, which

i '• had appeared to them as the only means of salvation.

« , These, too, should partake of the salvation that had dawned

! for them. This hope alone it was that was threatened

^ ^ by the enemy. For it, for an order of things that long

after their death shoidd blossom on their graves, they so
joyfully shed their blood. Let us admit that they were
not entirely clear in their own minds, that they made
mistakes in their choice of words to denote the noblest
that was in them, and with their lips did injustice to their

^ souls ; let us willingly confess that their confession of

< . . faith was not the sole and exclusive means of becoming a

partaker of the heaven beyond the grave ; none the less

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it is eternally true that more heaven on this side of the
grave, a braver and more joyful look from earth upwards,
and a freer stirring of the spirit have entered by thdr
sacrifice into the whole life of succeeding ages. To tlus
very day the descendants of their opponents, just as much
as we ourselves, their own descendants, enjoy the fruits
of their labours.

121. In this belief our earliest common forefathers,
the original stock of the_new culture, the Germans, as V y
the Romans called them, bravely resisted the on-coming ^'^^
world-dominion of the Romans. Did they not have
before their eyes the greater brilliance of the Roman
provinces next to them and the more refined enjoyments
in those provinces, to say nothing of laws and judges'
seats and lictors' axes and rods in superfluity ? Were
not the Romans willing enough to let them share in all
these blessings ? In the case of several of their own
princes, who did no more than intimate that war against
such benefactors of mankind was rebellion, did they not
experience proofs of the belauded Roman clemency f
To those who submitted the Romans gave marks of
distinction in the form of kingly titles, high commands
in their armies, and Roman fillets ; and if they were
driven out by their countrymen, did not the Romans
provide for them a place of refuge and a means of sub-
sistence in their colonies ? Had they no appreciation
of the advantages of Roman civilization, e.g.^ of the
superior organization of their armies, in which even an
Arminius did not disdain to learn the trade of war ?
They cannot be charged with ignorance or lack of con-
sideration of any one of these things. Their descendants,
as soon as they could do so without losing their freedom,
even assimilated Roman culture, so far as this was possible
without losing their individuality. Why, then, did they

\ " I

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i '

fight for several generations in bloody wars, that broke

ll . , out again and again with ever renewed force ? A Roman

jl writer puts the following expression into the mouth of

.1' , their leaders : " What was left for them to do, except to

! maintain their freedom or else to die before they became

a; : -w. ^. slaves." Freedom to them meant just this : remaining

'^ '^ Germans and continuing to settle their own affairs
{ , independently and in accordance with the original spirit

of their race, going on with their development in accord-
ance with the same spirit, and propagating this indepen-
l I . dence in their posterity. All those blessings which the

I . , . Romans offered them meant slavery to them, because then

; they would have to become something that was not

German, they would have to become half Roman. They
^ assumed as a matter of course that every man would rather

! ' die than become half a Roman, and that a true German

I could only want to live in order to be, and to remain, just

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 12 of 22)