Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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and independent nature is at the present time in danger ;

(2) Whether it is worth the trouble, or not worth the
trouble, to maintain this nation ;

(3) Whether there is any sure and thorough means of
maintaining it, and what this means is. .

184. It was hitherto a custom of long standing among
us that, when any earnest word was uttered, either to
an audience or in print, those who never got beyond
polite conversation took possession of the word and
transformed it into an amusing subject of talk to relieve
their boredom. Now, I have not noticed, as I have on
former occasions, that those around me have made such
a use of the addresses I am now delivering ; but I have not

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acquainted myself with the current tone of the social
gatherings in the field of books — I mean the literary
papers and other journals — and I do not know whether
^ they may be expected to take me in joke or in earnest.
However this may be, it has at any rate not been my
; intention to joke, or to set in motion once more the wit
which this age of ours is known to possess.

185. A custom that took deeper root among us and
became almost second nature — so much so that not to
observe it was almost unheard-of — ^was that the Germans
regarded the introduction of any topic as an invitation to
everyone who had a mouth to have his own say about it,
quickly and on the spot, and to inform us whether he was
of the same opinion or not ; and when the vote had been
i taken in this way the whole thing was over, and public
conversation felt bound to proceed with haste to another
subject. In this way all literary discussion among the
/Germans transformed itself, like Echo in the ancient
I fable, into nothing but pure sound, without any body
\or bodily substance. We know how it is in the personal
intercourse of third-rate society, and so it was in this
literary fellowship; the only thing that mattered was
that the human voice should go on sounding, and that
each one should take up the ball of conversation and with-
out a pause throw it to his neighbour ; but what was said
did not matter in the least. Now, if that is not being
'"without character and un-German, what is i Nor has
it been my intention to do homage to this custom and
merely keep alive public discussion. I have long ago
sufficiently performed my own share in this public
conversation — though only incidentally, my purpose
having been different — and I think I might at last be
absolved from any further contribution. I do not want to
know on the spot what A or B thinks about the questions


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that have been raised here, i.e.y what he has hitherto

thought about them, or not thought. He must consider

it for himself and think deeply about it, until his judg^

ment is ready and completely clear, and he must take (

the necessary time for that purpose ; if he is still lacking

in the requisite preliminary knowledge, and in the full

degree of culture that is required before a judgment

can be formed in these matters, he must further take time

to make good these deficiencies; If anyone has hit

judgment ready and clear in this way, we do not exactly

insist that he shall deliver it publicly. Should it agree

with what has been said here — ^weU, it has been said

already and does not need saying twice. Only he who

can say something different and better is called upon to

speak. On the other hand, what has been said here

must be really lived and put into practice by each one

in his own way and according to his own circumstances.

186. Least of all, in conclusion, has it been my inten-
tion to lay these addresses as an exercise in composition
before our German masters of doctrine and writing, so
that they may correct them and I may learn in this way
what promise, if any, there is in my work. In this
respect also plenty of good doctrine and advice has
already been directed towards me and, if improvement
were to be expected, it ought to have shown itself by now.

187. No, my intention in the first place was to be a ^ ^
guide among the swarm of questions and investigations "^
and the host of contradictory opinions concerning them,
in which educated men among us have hitherto been
tossed about, and to lead as many men as I could to a
point where they might take a firm stand, to the point
which concerns us most intimately — the point of our own
common interests. My intention was to bring them in
this one matter to a firm opinion which might remain

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unshaken, and to a clearness in which they might really
see their way. However much else might be a matter of
dispute among them, my intention was to unite them in
this one matter at least, and to make them of one mind.
It was my intention, finally, to bring this out as one
certain characteristic of the German, viz., that he is a
man who has appreciated the need of forming an opinion
\ for himself about that which concerns Germans ; and to
make it clear that a man who does not want to hear or to
think anything about this subject may rightly be regarded,
from now on, as not belonging to us.

1 88. The creation of a firm opinion of this kind, and
the association and mutual comprehension of divers
persons on this subject, will do two things. It will be
the direct means of redeeming our character, by removing
that lack of concentration which is so unworthy of us,
and at the same time. it will become a powerful means
of attaining our main object, the introduction of the new
national education. It was just because we ourselves,
individually and collectively, were never of one opinion,
but wanted one thing to-day and something different
tomorrow, and because each one made the clamour
more confused by shouting something different — ^it was
for this reason that our governments, who to be sure
listened to us, and often listened more attentively than
was advisable, became confused and swayed to and fro
just like our own opinion. If our common affairs are
at last to pursue a firm and certain course, what is there
to prevent us from beginning at once with ourselves and
setting the example of firmness and decision ? When
once a united and unchanging opinion makes itself heard,
when a definite need announces itself as a general need and
makes itself felt — the need of a national education, as we
assume it will be — I am quite sure that our governments

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will listen to us ; they will help us, if we show the inclina-
tion to allow ourselves to be helped. At any rate, if ^
they did not, we would then, and not before, have the
right to complain about them ; at the present time, [
when our governments are pretty much as we want them
to be, it ill becomes us to complain.

189. Whether there is a sure and thorough means of]
preserving the German nation, and what this means may 's^
be, is the most important of the questions which I have ;
submitted to this nation for decision. My object in
answering the question, and in stating the reasons for my
way of answering it, was not to say what the final judgment
will be — that could not be of any use, because everyone
who is to have a hand in this matter must have convinced
himself in his own mind by his own activity— on the con-
trary, my object was only to stimulate men to reflect for
themselves and form their own judgment. From this point
onwards I must leave each man to settle it for himself.
One warning I can give and nothing more ; do not
let yourselves be deceived by the shallow and superficial
thoughts which are in circulation even on this subject ; do
not let yourselves be restrained from deep reflection, and
do not accept the empty consolations that are offered.

190. For example, long before the most recent events A
we had to hear, in advance as it were, a saying which since \
then has frequently been repeated in our ears : that even I
if our political independence were lost we should still'
keep our language and our literature, and thereby always
remain a nation ; so we could easily console ourselves for
the loss of everything else.

But, first of all, what basis is there for hoping that we
shall keep our language even if we lose our political
independence ? Surely those who say this do not
ascribe this miraculous power to their own persuasions

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and admonitions when addressed to their children, their
children's children, and to all the centuries to come.
Those men now living and mature, who have accustomed
themselves to speaking, writing, and reading in the
German language, will no doubt go on doing so ; but
what will the next generation do, and, more important
still, the third generation ? What counterpoise do we
propose to place in the hearts of these generations that
will hold the scale against their desire to please, by speech
and writing, the race with which all glory rests and which
has all favours to distribute ? Have we, then, never
heard of a language ^ which is the first in the world,
although it is known that the first works in that language
are still to be written ; and do we not already see before
our eyes that writings are appearing in it by whose con-
tents the authors hope to find favour ? The example of
two other languages is brought forward in support, one
of the ancient and one of the modern world, which, in
spite of the political destruction of the peoples who spoke
them, continued to exist as living languages. I do not
intend even to examine the manner in which they have
continued to exist ; but this much is clear at first sight^
that both languages had something in them which ours
does not possess, and by means of this they found favour
with their conquerors, which our language can never
I find. If these vain comforters had looked about them
better, they would have found another example which,
in our opinion, is entirely to the point here, viz., the
language of the Wends. This, too, has continued to
exist during all the centuries in which the people that
speaks it has been deprived of its freedom — it exists, that

* [Fichtc seems here to be referring ironicilly to French and to those
\ Germans who were writing in that language in order to curry favour with
Napoleon.] ^

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is to say, in the wretched hovels of the serf bound to the

soil, so that he may bemoan his fate in his own language ^

which his oppressor does not understand.

But let us suppose that our language remains a living ^

and a literary language and so preserves its literature ; f

what sort of literature can that be, the literature of a \ i

people without political independence ? What does a ^

sensible writer want, and what can he want ? Nothing \
else but to influence public life and the life of all, and to L- ^

form and reshape it according to his vision ; and if he^
does not want to do this, everything he says is empty ^

sound to tickle the ears of the indolent. He wants to
think originally and from the root of spiritual life for
those who act just as originally, i.^., govern. He can,
therefore, only write in a language in which the governors '^•

think, in a language in which the work of government ,^

is carried on, in the language of a people that forms an
independent State. For what is the ultimate aim of all a^ \

our efforts even in regard to the most abstract sciences ?' f.

Admitting that the immediate objects of these efforts u : - ^

to propagate the science from generation to generation
and to maintain it in the world, the question arises : <.

Why should it be maintained ? Obviously only in order
to shape the life of all and the whole human order of * >

things when the right time comes. Tliat is its ultimate
object ; hence, every effort in science indirectly serves the t'
State, though it may be only in a remote future. If it
abandons this aim, it loses its worth and its independence.
But he who sets this aim before him must write in the ^

language of the dominant race.

191. Just as it is true beyond doubt that, wherever a
separate language is found, there a separate nation exists,
which has the right to take independent charge of its
affairs and to govern itself ; so one can say, on the other f



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hand) that, where a people has ceased to govern itself, it
is equaUy bound to give up its language and to coalesce
with its conquerors, in order that there may be unity
and internal peace and complete oblivion of relationships
which no longer exist. Even a semi-intelligent leader of
such a mixture of races must insist on this ; and we may
be quite sure that in our case the insistence will not be
lacking. Until this amalgamation has taken place,
approved school-books will be translated into the lan-
guage of the barbarians, i.^., those who are too stupid to
learn the language of the dominant race, and who thereby
exclude themselves from all influence on public affairs
and condemn themselves to lifelong subjection. These
persons, who have sentenced themselves to silence con-
cerning actual events, will be permitted to exercise their
oratorical skill on the disputes of a fictitious world, or to
imitate in their own way obsolete and ancient forms ;
proofs of the former condition may be found in the case
of the ancient language that was cited above as an example,
and of the latter in the case of the modern language.
Such a literature we might perhaps retain for some time
yet ; and with such a literature let him console himself
who has no better consolation. But, as to those who
might be capable of playing the man, of seeing the truth,
and of becoming aroused by the sight of it to decision
and action — that they should be kept in indolent slumber
by such a worthless consolation, which would be the very
thing to serve the purpose of an enemy of our independence,
that is what I should like to prevent if I could.
. 192. So we are promised the continuance of a German
literature for future generations ! In order to form a
better judgment of the hopes that we can entertain in
this matter, it would be very profitable to look ^bout us
find see whether we still have at this moment a German


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literature in the true sense of the word. The noblest

privilege and the most sacred function of the man of

letters is this : to assemble his nation and to take counsel

with it about its most important affairs. But especially ^

in Germany this has always been the exclusive function t

of the man of letters, because Germany was split up into •

several separate States, and was held together as a common ^ -

whole almost solely by the instrumentality of the man of

letters, by speech and writing. In the most special and \

urgent way does it become his function at the present

time, now that the last external bond which united the /

Germans, the imperial constitution, has also been de-v^

stroyed. If it should now be evident — ^we are not speaking

here of something we know or fear, but only of a possible '

case, which we must nevertheless take into consideration

in advance — if it should, I say, be evident that State .^

officials in the separate States were already so obsessed by

anxiety, fear, and terror, that they first forbade such

voices to make themselves heard or prohibited the ;

spreading of the message, voices which assumed that a ; /

nation was still in existence and addressed themselves

to it ; then, that would be a proof that we already had '^

no German men of letters at work, and we should know

what our prospects would be for any literature in the ^


193. Now, what could it be that these people are
afraid of ? Perhaps that this man or that will not be
pleased to hear voices of that kind. Then, at any rate
they would have chosen the time badly for their tender
consideration. Pamphlets libelling and degrading the
fatherland, insipid praises of what is foreign, they are
plainly unable to prevent ; then let them not be so strict
against a word for the fatherland which makes itself heard
in between. It is quite possible that all are not equally

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willing to hear all things ; but at this time we cannot
concern ourselves with that ; we are urged on by necessity,
and we must say just what necessity orders us to say.
We are fighting for life ; do they want us to walk delicately,

Mest some robe of state be covered with the dust we may
raise ? We are sinking in the water-floods ; are we to
refrain from calling for help, lest some weak-nerved
neighbour may be alarmed ?

194. For, who arc they who might not like to hear it,
and on what condition might they not like to hear it ?
In every case it is only obscurity and darkness which
cause alarm. Every terrifying vision vanishes when one
^azes at it firmly. With the same unconcern and direct-
ness, with which we have hitherto analysed every subject
that has occurred in these addresses, let us look this
terror, too, in the face.

|We must assume either that the being ^ to whom at the
present time the conduct of a great part of the world's
affairs has fallen is a truly great soul, or we must assume
the contrary ; no third assumption is possible. In the

^ first case : on what is all human greatness based, if not
on the independence and originality of the person and
on the fact that the person is not an artificial product of
his age, but a growth out of the eternal and spontaneous
spirit-world, which has grown up just as it is i Is not
greatness based on the fact that to one person a new and
individual view of the universe has dawned, and that this
person has the firm will and the iron strength to impose
his view on the actual world ? But it is quite impossible
for such a soul not to honour in peoples and individuals
external to himself that in which his own internal great-
ness consists, viz., independence, constancy, and indivi-
duality of existence. In proportion as the great soul feels

* [Napdcon.] '

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sure of his own greatness and trusts thereto, he disdains to
rule over a people with a wretched servile spirit or to be a ^

giant among dwarfs ; he disdains the thought that he must
first degrade men in order to rule over them ; he is oppressed [

by the sight of degeneration round about him. Not to ^

be able to respect men causes him pain ; but every- . »

thing that elevates and ennobles his brother men and ^

places them in a worthier light is a cause of satisfaction to
his own noble spirit and is his greatest delight! Are we ^

to believe that such a soul would note with (Uspleasure
that the upheavals which the present times have brought
about are being used to arouse an ancient and honourable
nation from its deep slumber — a nation that b the stem
from which most of the peoples of modern Europe have
sprung, and which is the creator of them all — ^and to induce '^^

it to lay hold of a sure means of preservation in order to .^

raise itself from ruin — a means which ensures at the same
time that it will never sink again, and that it wrill raise \

all the other peoples along with itself ? ^e are here not :

inciting people to riotous measures ; we are rather warning
people against them as sure to lead to ruinf] We are
pointing out a firm and unchangeable foundation, on
which the highest and purest morality, such as was never
yet seen among men, may be built up at last for the world
in one people and assured for all time to come, and which
may thence be spread abroad among all other peoples.
We are pointing the way to a regeneration of the human
race, a way to turn earthly and sensuous creatures into
pure and noble spirits. Does anyone think that such a
proposal could be felt as an insult by a mind that is itself
pure and noble and great, or by anyone who forms him-
self after that pattern ?

What, on the other hand, would be the assumption
of those who entertained this fear and admitted it by f

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their actions, and what would they proclaim to all the
world as their assumption ? They would acknowledge
that they believed we were ruled over by an enemy of
mankind, by a very base and petty Principle, alarmed by
every stirring of independent strength and unable to
hear of morality, religion, or ennoblement of souls without
anxiety; because nothing but the degradation of men,
their stupor, and their vices would make his position
safe and give him hope of maintaining himself. With
this belief of theirs, which would add to our other miseries
the crushing shame of being ruled over by such a man as
this, are we now forthwith to proclaim ourselves in agree-
ment, and are we to act in accordance with it before we
haye clear proof that it is true ?

MLet us suppose the worst : that they are in the right
and not we, who show by our action that we make the
former assumptionf^ Is, then, the human race really to
be degraded and to go under as a favour to one man who
profits by the fall and to those who are afraid ? Is one,
whose heart bids him do it, not to be allowed to warn
them of destruction ? Suppose, not only that they were
in the right, but that one should resolve, in the sight of
this generation and of posterity, to admit that they were
right and to deliver aloud on one's self the judgment
just expressed ; what, then, would be the greatest
ultimate consequence for the unwelcome warner ? Do
they know anything greater than death ? This awaits us
all in any case, and from the beginning of humanity
noble souls have defied the danger of death for the sake
of less important matters — for when was there ever a
higher matter than the present one ? Who has the right
to intervene in an undertaking that is begun with full
knowledge of this danger ?

195. Should there be such people — though I hope not —


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among us Germans, they would offer their necks without

invitation, without thanks, and, as I hope, without find- . -

ing acceptance, to the yoke of spiritual serfdom. TTiey

would bitterly revile their own country in flattering its |

oppressor ; they would think that diplomatic, for they ^

do not know the mind of true greatness, but measure its . »

thoughts by the thoughts suggested by their own petti- ^

ness ; thus they would make use of literature, for which

they know no other use, to pay their court by slaughtering ^ ^

it as a sacrificial victim. We, on the other hand, praiseA-^ ;

the greatness of the soul, with whom power lies, much

more by the fact of our confidence and our courage than

words could ever do. Throughout the entire domain of

the whole German language, wherever our voice rings out

free and unrestrained, it thus invokes Germans by the

very fact of its existence : rio one wants your oppression^ , ^

your servility, your slavish subjection ; but your indepen-

dence, your true freedom, your elevation, and your
ennoblement are wanted ; for it is not forbidden to discuss
these things openly with you and to show you the infall- ^

ible means of attaining them. If this voice finds a hear-
ing and has the result intended, it will set up a memorial <
of this greatness, and of our faith in it, for all centuries
to come — a memorial which time cannot destroy, but >
which will grow greater, and spread more vsddely, with each
new generation. Who dares to set himself against the
attempt to erect such a memorial n .

So, instead of consoling ourselves for the loss of our
independence with the promise of a period of bloom for
our literature in the future, and instead of allowing our-
selves to be deterred by consolations of that kind from
seeking a means to restore our independence, we prefer i

to ask whether those Germans, to whom a kind of guardian- ; '

ship of literature has fallen, still allow, even in these days,

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a literature in the true sense of the word to the other

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 18 of 22)