Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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both be willing or unwilling ? Yet this compulsion to
adopt permanently a certain mode of life against one's
will is far more serious, and has frequently the most
harmful results to the moral condition, health, and life
of those who are so compelled. On the other hand, the
compulsion of which we speak restores complete personal
freedom when education is finished, and can have none
but the most salutary results. It is true that even mili-
^ tary service was formerly voluntary ; but, when it was
discovered that this was not sufficient for the purpos^;
intended, we did not scruple to back it up by compulsion,
because the matter was sufficiently important for us,
and necessity demanded compulsion. If only in regard
[to education, too, our eyes were opened to our need and
the matter became as important to us, that hesitation
I would vanish of itself ; especially as compulsion will be
I needed only in the first generation and will vanish in the
i next, which will itself have passed through this education.
Moreover, compulsory military service, too, will thereby
be ended, because those who are thus educated are all
equally willing to bear arms for their fatherland. Even
if, in order not to have too much of an outer}*' at the
beginning, it is desirable to limit this compulsion to public
education in the same way as compulsion to military
service has hitherto been limited, and to exclude from the
former the classes that are exempt from the latter, no
serious harm will result. The intelligent parents among
those exempted will voluntarily hand over their children
to this education. The children of the unintelligent
parents of these classes, an insignificant minority, may
continue to grow up as before. They will survive am6ng
the better generation that is to be created, and serve

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merely as a curious memorial of the past, and to encourage
the new age to a vivid knowledge of its greater good

of the Germans simply ; and the great majority of thos^
who speak the German language, and not just the citizens
of this or that particular German State only, are to exist

] as a new race of men. Every German St ate, therefor e,
must undertake this task for itself, and independentl y n
of all the others. The language in wTiich this matter
was first mentioned, in which the means thereto are and
swill be written, in which the teachers are trained, the
one vein of sensuous imagery that permeates all this is
common to all Germans. I can scarcely imagine how and
with what changes all these means of education, especially
to the full extent of our scheme, could be translated into
the language of any foreign country so as to seem, not
an alien transplanted thing, but a native product arising
from the very life of its language. For all Germans
alike this difficulty is removed ; for them the thing is
ready ; they need only avail themselves of it.

172. In this respect it is well for us, indeed, that there

('are various German States separated from one another.
What has so often been to our disadvantage may perhaps

^ jn this important national business serve to our advantage.
The rivalry of several States and the desire to anticipate\
one another may perhaps bring about what the calm |
self-sufficiency of the single State would not produce./
For it is clear that, whichever German State makes a start
in this matter, that State will win for itself the chief
place in the respect, love, and gratitude of all, and will
rank as the greatest benefactor and the true founder of
the nation. It will encourage the others, set them an
instructive example, and be their model. It will remove


171. Now, this education is to be national education (



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doubts which hold the others fast. It will produce the
textbooks and the first teachers, and lend them to the
others. The State that follows it next will win the second
place 9f honour. There is gratifying evidence that among
the Germans the taste for higher things has never quite
died out, for several German peoples and States have
striven with one another for the honour of having the
higher culture. Some have claimed to have more exten-
sive freedom of the press and greater disregard for tradi-
tional opinion, others better organized schools and
universities ; some have cited former glory and merit,
others something else ; and the strife could not be de-
cided. On the present occasion it will be decided.
Only that education which dares to make itself universal
and to include all men without distinction is a real part
of life and is sure of itself. Any other is foreign trimming,
put on simply for show and not even worn with right good
conscience. It will now be revealed where the boasted
culture exists only in a few people of the middle class,
who show it in their writings (and such people are to be
found in every German State), and where, on the other
hand, it has reached also the higher classes who advise
the State. Then it will be shown, too, how one has to
judge the zeal displayed here and there for the erection
and welfare of institutions for higher education ; whether
the motive was pure love of educating mankind, which
would indeed treat with equal zeal every branch of educa-
tion and especially the very first foundation, or mere
passion for showing off and, perhaps, paltry schemes for
making money.
^ ' 173. The first German State to carry out this pro-
posal will, I said, have the greatest glory. Yet it will
not long stand alone, but "wilHit oubtl esr soon find imi-
tators and rivals. The important thing is to make a

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Start. Even if there were no other motive, a sense of\

honour^ or jealousy, or the desire to have what another | ^

possesses and, if possible, to have it in a better form, will /

spur on the rest to follow the example one after the other./ [

Then, too, the above-mentioned considerations concerning ^

the State's own advantage, which perhaps seem doubtful i *

to many just now, will become more obvious, once they <

are proved by personal observation. .

If it could be expected that every German State would i

at once, and from this very hour, make serious prepara-
tions to carry out that scheme, the better generation that
we need would be in existence in twenty-five years, and
anyone who might expect to live so long could hope to
see it with his own eyes.

174. But we must also take this contingency into
account. Among all the German States that now exist, ,^

there might not be a single one which had among its
highest advisers a man capable of understanding, and of ' \

being affected by, all that has been mentioned above, . [[

and in which the majority of the counsellors did not at ^

any rate oppose him. In that case, of course, this business
would devolve upon well-disposed private persons, and \ x '
it would be desirable that they should make a start with
the proposed new education. We have in mind here,
first of all, great landowners, who could establish on their
estates such educational institutions for the children of
their dependents. It is to Germany's credit, and a very
honourable mark of distinction from the other nations
of modern Europe, that among the class mentioned there
have always been some here and there, who made it
their serious business to care for the instruction and
education of the children on their estates, and were
gladly willing to do for them' to the best of their know-
ledge. It is to be hoped that they will now be inclined f

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to inform themselves about the complete scheme that is
offered them, and be just as willing to do now on a large
scale and thoroughly what they have hitherto done on a
small scale and imperfectly. It may be that some of
them did what they did partly because they saw that it
was more profitable for them to have educated, rather
than uneducated, dependents. In those cases where the
State, by abolishing the relationship of serf and lord,
has now removed the latter motive, may it bear in mind
the more earnestly that it is its essential duty at the same
time not to do away with the one blessing which, where
the lords were well-disposed, was attached to that
relationship ! May the State in this case not fail to do
that which, apart from this, is its duty, when it has
released therefrom those who did it voluntarily in its
stead ! Then, in regard to the Qities, we look to volun-
tary associations formed for that purpose by well-disposed
citizens. So far as I have been able to see, no burden
of misery has ever yet extinguished in German hearts
the impulse to do good. Yet, owing to a number of
faults in our institutions, which could all be included
under the one head of neglected education, these good
works seldom remove misery, but seem, indeed, often to
increase it. May we at last direct that excellent impulse
chiefly towards the good work which puts an end to aU
misery and to all need of further good works — the good
work of education. Yet we need, and count upon, a
blessing and sacrifice of another kind, which consists,
not in giving, but in doing and acting. May budding
scholars, whose position allows it, dedicate the time
between their departure from the university and their
appointment to a public post to the business of receiving
instruction in these institutions concerning this method
of teaching, and of teaching in them ! Apart from the

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fact that they will thereby deserve well of the community,
we can assure them that they will themselves gain very
much. All the knowledge which they carry away with
them from the usual university teaching, and which is j

often so dead, will become clear and living in the atmos-
phere of general observation into which they come here.
They will learn to reproduce and use their knowledge
with skill. Since all the features of mankind appear
pure and clear in the child, they will acquire a store of
true knowledge of mankind that alone deserves the name ;
they will be introduced to the great art of life and action, i/^
in which the university usually gives no instruction.

175. If the State does not undertake the proffered task,
so much the greater glory for the private persons who do.
Far be it from us to anticipate the future with surmises,
or strike the note of doubt and distrust. We have stated
clearly what we wish for first. We may, however, bc\
permitted to say that, if the State and the princes should \
in fact leave the matter to private persons, this would be !
in accordance with the usual course of German develop- / : ^

ment and culture, which has been already mentioned^
and proved by examples, and which would continue so
to the end. In this case, too, the State will follow in
its own time ; at first like an individual, wanting just
to do its part, until later it reflects that it is not a part,
but the whole, and that it is its duty, as well as its right,
to care for the whole. From that moment onwards, all
the independent efforts of private persons cease and arc
subordinated to the State's general scheme.

Should the matter take this course, the intended refor-
mation of our race will certainly proceed but slowly, and
without the possibility of a definite and fixed survey and
estimate of the whole. But let us not be deterred by this
from making a start ! It is the very nature of the thing

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that it can never perish, but, once set in motion, it lives
on of itself and spreads, ever gaining fresh ground. Every-
one who has received this education becomes a witness
for it and a zealous propagator. Everyone will pay his
debt for the teaching received by becoming a teacher
himself, and by making as many disciples as he can, who
wiU also in turn some day become teachers. This must
continue until the whole community without exception
is affected.

176. If the State should not undertake the matter,
private enterprise has this to fear ; that those parents
who are at all well-to-do will not give up their children
to this education. In that case, in God's name let
tis turn with full confidence to the poor orphans, to
the wretched street-children, and to all those whom
the adult world has cast out and rejected. Formerly,,
specially in those German States where the piety of
ancestors had greatly increased and richly endowed the
public educational institutions, many parents let their
families have instruction, because along with it, as in
no other occupation, they found maintenance at the same
time. Let us, therefore, since it is necessary, reverse
this order, and give bread to those to whom no one else
gives it, in order that, along with the bread, they may
receive mental culture also. Let us not fear that the
misery and wildness of their former condition will hinder
our purpose ! If only we snatch them away from it
suddenly and completely, bring them into an entirely
new world, and leave nothing to remind them of the past,
they will themselves forget and be like newly-created
beings. Our course of instruction and daily routine
must guarantee that only good is engraven on this clean
new tablet. It will be a testimony against our age and
a warning to all posterity if the very ones whom it has

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rejected obtain through this rejection the sole privilege
of founding a new race, if they bring the blessing of educa-
tion to the children of those who would not mix with
them, and if they become the ancestors of our future ■

heroes, sages, lawgivers, and saviours of mankind. ^

177. For the first establishment capable teachers and : '

educators above all are needed. Pestalozzi's school hat ^

trained such people, and is always ready to train more.
An important thing to keep in mind at the beginning x

will be that every institution of the kind should regard i
}i itself also as a training school for teachers, where, round
the teachers who are already trained, a number of young i

men may gather to learn and, at the same time, to practise
teaching, and by practice to learn it better and better.
This, too, will greatly facilitate the supply of teachers,
in case the institutions have at first to struggle against
poverty. Most of them will be there to learn ; let the
sole return asked of them be to apply for a time what thejr
have learnt to the benefit of the institution where they
learnt it. ^•

Moreover, such an institution needs a building, initial ^
equipment, and an adequate piece of land. It seems
evident that, as these institutions develop, they will
contain a relatively large number of growing youths of
an age at which, under the existing arrangement, they
earn as servants not only their maintenance but also a
yearly wage. To these the children of more tender
age can be entrusted, and by diligence and wise economy,
which in any case are necessary, these institutions will
be mainly self-supporting. At first, so long as there are
none of these older pupils, the institutions will need rather
large contributions. It is to be hoped that people will
be more disposed to make contributions, when they see
the prospect of an end to them. Let us not be parsi-

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monious, and so prejudice the aim. It is far better that
we should do nothing at all than permit this.

My opinion, therefore, is that, goodwill alone pre-
.supposed, the realization of this scheme presents no
difficulty that could not easily be overcome by the com-
bination of several people, and by the directing of all
their strength to this one purpose.


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178. The education which we propose io the Germans
as their future national education has now been suffi-
ciently described. When once the generation that has
been formed by this education is in existence— a genera-
tion impelled by its taste for the right and the good and
by nothing else whatever ; a generation provided with an
understanding that is adequate for its standpoint and
recognizes the right unfailingly on every occasion; a T

generation equipped with full power, both physical and k

spiritual, to carry out its will on every occasion — ^when
once this generation is in existence, everything that wc
can long for in our boldest wishes will come into being
of itself from the very existence of that generation, and
will grow out of it naturally. That age is in so little
need of any rules we can make for its guidance that we
should rather have to learn from it.

Since this generation is in the meantime not in exis-
tence, but must first be raised up by education, and since,
even if everything else should go on excellently and beyond
our expectation, we shall nevertheless require a consider-
able interval before we pass over to that new age, the
more urgent question arises : How are we to manage to
get through this interval i Since we can do nothing

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better, how are we to maintain ourselves at any rate as the
soil on which the improvement ma/ take place, and as.
the point of departure at which this improvement may
begin its work ? When once the generation formed in
this way emerges from its seclusion and appears among
us, how are we to prevent it from finding among us actual
conditions that have not the slightest relationship to
the order of things which it has conceived as embodying
the right — actual conditions under which no one under-
stands it or has the slightest wish for, or need of, such
an order of things, but, on the contrary, regards the
existing state of things as entirely natural and the only
one possible i Would not those who have another world
in their hearts soon become confused ; and in this case
would not the new education be just as useless for the
improvement of actual life as the former education,
and lose its savour in the same way ?

179. If the majority of people continue in their
previous state of heedlessness, thoughtlessness, and lack
of concentration, this very result may be expected as
inevitable. He who lets himself go without paying heed
to himself, and allows himself to be moulded by circum-
stances just as they please, soon accustoms himself to any
possible order of things. However much his eye may
have been offended by something when he first saw it, let
it only present itself anew every day in the same way and
he accustoms himself to it. Later, he finds it natural,
and in the ei^d he even gets to like it as something inevit-
able ; he would not thank you for the restoration of
the original and better state of things, because this would
tear him out of the mode of life to which he has become
accustomed. In this way men become accustomed even
to slavery, if only their material existence is not thereby
aifected, and in time they get to like it. It is just this

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that 18 the most dangerous thing about a state of subjection;
it makes men insensitive to all true honour, and, more- -^
over, for the indolent man it has its very pleasant side,'
because it relieves him of many a care and of the need
of thinking for himself.

i8o. Let us be on our guard against being taken un-
awares by this sweetness of servitude, for it robs even our.
posterity of the hope of future emancipation* If our\^
external activity is restricted and fettered, let us elevate j
our spirit all the more boldly to the thought of freedom p**"
let us rise to live in this thought and make it the sole
object of our wish and longing. What if freedom dis-
appear for a time from the visible world ? Let us give
it a place of refuge in our innermost thoughts, until
there shall grow up round about us the new world which
has the power of manifesting our thoughts outwardly.
In the sphere where no one can deprive us of the freedom
to do as we think best — in our own minds let us make
ourselves a pattern, a prophecy, and a guarantee of that f

which will become a reality when we are gone. Let us \/ ►;

not allow our spirit, as well as our body, to be bent and i
subj ected and brought into captivity. ^

181. If you ask me how this is to be brought about,
the only entirely comprehensive answer is this : We must
at once become what we ought to be in any case,
namely, Germans. We are not to subject our spirit ;
therefore we must before all things provide a spirit for
ourselves, and a firm and certain spirit ; we must become
earnest in all things and not go on existing frivolously, as
if life were a jest ; we must form for ourselves enduring and
unshakable principles which will serve as a sure guide
for all the rest of our thoughts and actions. Life and
thought with us must be of one piece and a solid and
interpenetrating whole ; in both we must live according


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11 to nature and truth, and throw away foreign contrivances ;
in a word, we must provide character for ourselves ; for
to have character and to be German [Charakter haben
und deutsch sein] undoubtedly mean the same ; and the
thing has no special name in our language, because it is
intended to proceed immediately from our very existence
without any knowledge or reflection on our part.

182. We must first of all set our own thoughts to
work and think about the great events of our days, their
relation to us^ and what we have to expect from them ;
and we must provide ourselves with a firm and clear view
of all these matters, and a definite and unchangeable Yes
or No in answer to the questions that arise out of them.
Everyone who makes the slightest claim to culture is
bound to do that. The animal life of man proceeds in
all ages according to the same laws, and in this every
age is alike. Only to the understanding are there such
things as different ages ; and only the man whose conception
penetrates them lives in them, and only he exists in his
own age ; any other kind of life is nothing but the life
of plants and animals. To let everything that happens
pass by one unperceived, perhaps to close eye and ear
diligently to its urgent message, and even to boast of such
thoughtlessness as if it were great wisdom — this may be
the proper thing for a rock on which the waves of the
sea beat without its feeling them, or for a tree-trunk
dashed to and fro by storms without its perceiving them ;
but in no wise does it beseem a thinking being. Even the

j thinker who dwells in the higher spheres is not absolved

^from this general obligation of understanding his own

\age. Everything that is on the higher plane must want

to influence the immediate present in its own fashion ;

and he who truly lives in the former lives at the same

time in the latter also ; if he did not live in the latter

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also, it would be a proof that he did not live in the
former either, but only dreamed in it. That lack of heed
to what is going on before our eyes, and the artful dis-
traction to other objects of the attention that is everywhere
aroused, would be the best thing that an enemy of our :

independence could wish to find. If he b sure that * ; »

nothing will set us thinking, he can do anything he wishes ^

with us, as if we were lifeless tools. It is precisely thm^
thoughtlessness that accustoms itself to anything; bufj ^

where clear and comprehensive thought, and in thay
thought the image of what ought to be, always remains ^ '

watchful, there is no question of becoming accustomed
to such things.

183. These addresses have in the first place invited jrou,

and they will invite the whole German nation, in so far ] '

as it is possible at the present time to assemble the nation
around a speaker by means of the printed book, to come
to a definite decision and to be at one with themselves
in their own minds on the following questions : *

\Xi) Whether it is true or untrue that there is a German ^•

nation, and that its continued existence in its peculiar

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 17 of 22)