Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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Germans who themselves write and read, and whether
they consider that such a literature is still allowed in
Germany or not. But some decision will shortly have
to be made as to what they really think about it.

196. After ally the first thing that we have to do, in
order merely to maintain ourselves in existence until the
time comes for the complete and thorough regeneration
of our race, is this ; to. provide ourselves with character,
and to prove it first of all by thinking for ourselves and
so forming a firm opinion of our true situation and of
the sure means of improving it. The worthlessness of
the consolation to be derived from the continued exis-
tence of our language and literature has been demon-
strated. There are, however, other delusive views which
have not yet been mentioned in these addresses, and which
hinder the formation of that firm opinion. It is appro-
priate to our purpose to consider these views as well ;
but we reserve this subject for the next address.

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197. At the end of the preceding address we said that
there were in circulation among us a number of worth-
less thoughts and deceptive theories as to the affairs of
peoples, and that this prevented the Germans from '

forming such a definite view of their present situation
as would be in accordance with their own special char-
acteristics. As these vain phantoms are being held up
for public veneration with great zeal just at present, and
as they might be embraced by many people now that so r

much else has begun to topple over, solely in order to fill
up the places that have become vacant, it seems appro-
priate to our purpose to subject these phantoms to a
more serious examination than their intrinsic importance
would deserve.

198. To begin with and before all things : the first,
original, and truly natural boundaries of States are^^
beyond doubt their in^t ernal bou ndaries. Those who
speak the same language are joined to each other by a
multitude of invisihle .i)onds by nature herself, long
before any human art begins ; they understand each other

^ [Flchte*s manuscript of this address, after having received the
imprimatur at the censor's office in Berlin, was mislaid and lost. As Fichte '

had meanwhile burnt the loose sheets which he had used in preparing the * * ' |^

address, he was compeUed to rewrite it as best he could.] ' .


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and have the power of continuing to make themselves
understood more and more clearly; they belong to-
gether and are by nature one and an inseparable whole.
Such a whole, if it wishes to absorb and mingle with itself
any other people of different descent and language, cannot
do so without itself becoming confused, in the beginning
at any rate, and violently disturbing the even progress
of its culture. From this internal boundar}^, which is
drawn by the spiritual nature of man himself, the marking
of the external boundary by dwelling-place results as
a consequence ; and in the natural view of things it is
not because men dwell between certain mountains and
rivers that they are a people, but, on the contrary, men
dwell together — and, if their luck has so arranged it,
are protected by rivers and mountains — because they
N^were a people already by a law of nature which is much

I 199. Thus was the German nation placed — sufficiently

j united within itself by a common language and a common

1 way of thinking, and sharply enough severed from the

I other peoples — in the middle of Europe, as a wall to

^ divide races not akin. The German nation was numerous

and brave enough to protect its boundaries against

any foreign attack ; it was left to itself, and by its whole

way of thinking was little inclined to take notice of the

neighbouring peoples, to interfere in their affairs, or to

provoke them to enmity by disturbances. As time went

on, a kind fortune preserved it from direct participation

in the conquest of other worlds — that event which, more

than any other, has been the basis of the development

taken by modern world-history, of the fates of peoples,

and of the largest part of their ideas and opinions. Since

that event, and not before. Christian Europe, which

hitherto, without being clearly conscious of it, had been

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one, and by joint enterprises had shown itself to be one — ,

Christian Europe, I say, split itself into various separate
parts. Since that event, and not before, there was t '

prey in sight which anyone might obtain ; and each one r

lusted after it in the same way, because all were able to I

make use of it in the same way ; and each one was envious , * ^

on seeing it in the hands of another. Now, and not f

before, was there a reason for secret enmity and lust for
war on the part of all against all. Moreover, now, and "^

not before, did it become profitable for peoples to incor-
porate with themselves peoples of other descent and other
languages, by conquest or, if that were not possible, by
alliances, and to appropriate their forces. A people
that has remained true to nature may have the wish,
when its abode becomes too narrow for it, to enlarge
it by conquest of the neighbouring soil in order to gain .n

more room, and then it will drive out the former inhabi-
tants. It may have the wish to exchange a harsh and
unfruitful region for a milder and more fortunate one, [

and in this case, too, it will drive out the former owners.
It may, if it should degenerate, undertake mere pillaging
raids in which, without craving after the so3 or its
inhabitants, it merely takes possession of every useful
thing, sweeps the countries clear and then departs.
Finally, it may regard the former inhabitants of the
conquered soil as one of the useful things and allot them
as slaves to individuals.^But, for it. to attach to itself
as a component part of the State the foreign population
just as it is, that will not profit it in the least, and it will
never be tempted to do so. .

But if the case is thus : that there is a tempting com-
mon prey to be fought for and to be won from an equally
strong or even stronger rival ; then the calculation is ^ ' ;

different. It matters not how much or how little the

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conquered people may blend with us ; we can at any
rate make use of their fists to overcome the opponent
we have to rob, and every man is welcome to us as an
addition to our fighting strength. Now, suppose that
some wise man, who wished for peace and quiet, had had
his eyes opened to this state of affairs ; from what source
could he expect quiet to come ? Obviously not from
the limitation set by nature to human greed, viz., that
superfluity is of no benefit to anyone ; for there was a
prey which tempted everyone. Just as little could he
expect peace to come from the will to set a limit to one's
self; for, where everyone grabs for himself everything
that he can, anyone who limits himself must of necessity
go under. No one wants to share with another what he
then ovms himself ; everyone wants to rob the other of
what he has, if he possibly can. If one of them is quiet,
It is only because he does not think himself strong enough
to begin a quarrel ; he will certainly begin it as soon as

perceives the necessary strength in himself.

tence, the only means of maintaining peace is this :
I tliat no one shall acquire enough power to be able to
disturb the peace, and that each one shall know that
there is just as much strength to resist on the other side
as there is to attack on his side ; and that thus there
may arise a hahnrif nn^ counterbalance of the total^ower
whereby alone, now that all other means have vanished,
each one is kept in possession of what he has at present
and all . are kept in peace. J This well-known system of
a balancejpf power in Europe, therefore, assumes two
things : first, a prey to which no one at all has any right,
but for which all have a like desire ; and second, the
universal, ever-present, ^ and unceasingly active lust for
booty. Indeed, on these assumptions, this balance of
power would be the only means of maintaining peace,

he p<

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if only one could find the second means, namely, that of ^>

creating the equilibrium and transforming it from an

empty thought into a thing of reality. ^

200. But were these assumptions in fact to be rdade 5

universally and without any exception i Had not the ^

mighty German nation, in the middle of Europe, kept
its hands off this prey, and was it not untainted by any ^.

craving for it, and almost incapable of making a claim to
it ? If only the..Xi£rmaa.j}ation had remained united, ^

with a common will and a com mim st rength! Then,
though the other Europeans might have wanted to murder
each other on every sea and shore, and on every island
too, in the middle of Europe the firm wall of the Germans
would have prevented them from reaching each otherl
Here peace would have remained, and the Germans
would have maintained themselves, and with themselves •?

also a part of the other European peoples, in quiet and
prosperity. . */

201 • That things should remain thus did not suit the ^

selfishness of foreign countries, whosejcalculations did not
look more than one moment ahead. They found German
bravery useful in^vaging their wars and German hands
useful to snatch the booty from their rivals/ A means
had to be found to attain this end, and foreign cunning
won an easy victory over German ingenuousness and lack
of suspicion. It was foreign countries which first made
useof the division of mind produced by religious disputes
in Germany — Germany, which presented on a small
scale the features of Christian Europe as a whole — '^.

foreign countries, I say, made use of these disputes to^
break up the close inner unity of Germany into separate
and disconnected parts. Foreign countries had already • '

destroyed their own unity naturally, by splitting into ' j

parts over a common prey ; and now they artificially ^


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destroyed German unity. Thcv knew how to present
each* of these separate States that had' thus arisen in the
lap of the one nation — ^which had no enemy except those
foreign countries themselves, and no concern except the
common one of setting itself with united strength against
their seductive craft and cunning — ^foreign countries, I say,
knew how to present each of these States to the others as a
natural enemy, against which each State must be perpetu-
ally on its guard. On the other hand, they knew how to
make themselves appear to the German States as natural
allies against the danger threatening them from their
own countrymen — as allies with whom alone they would
themselves stand or fall, and whose enterprises they must
in turn support with all their might. It was only be-
cause of this artificial bond that all the disputes which
might arise about any matter whatever in the Old World
or the New became disputes of the German races in their
relation to each other. Every war, no matter what its
cause, had to be fought out on German soil and with
German blood ; every disturbance of the balance had
to be adjusted in that nation to which the whole fountain-
head oi such relationships was unknown ; and the German
States, whose separate existence was in itself contrary
to all nature and reason, were compelled, in order that
they might count for something, to act as make-weights
to the chief forces in the scale of the European equili-
brium, whose movement they followed blindly and with-
out any vnH. of their own. Just as in many States abroad
the citizens are designated as belonging to this or that
foreign party, or voting for this or that foreign alliance,
but no name is found for those who belong to the party
of their own country, so it was with the Germans ; for
long enough they belonged only to some foreign party
or other, and one seldom came across a man who sup-

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ported the party of the Germans and was of the opinion
that this country ought to make an alliance with itself.

202. This, then, is the true origin and meaning, this the
result for Germany and for the world, of that notorious j

doctrine of a balance of power to be artificially main- I

tained between the European States. If Christian Europe > ^

had remained one, as it ought to be and as it originally was, ^

there would never have been any occasion to think of such
a thing. That which is one rests upon itself and supports ^

itself, and does not split up into conflicting forces which :

must be brought to an equilibrium. Only when Europe
became divided and without a law did the thought
of a balance acquire a meaning from necessity. To
this Europe, divided and without a law, Germany did not
belong. If only Germany at any rate had remained onc^
it would have rested on itself in the centre of the civili2edy^
world like the sun in the centre of the universe ; it woul4
have kept itself at peace, and with itself the adjacent
countries; and without any artificial measures it would
have kept everything in equilibrium by the mere fact of
its natural existence. It was only the deceit of foreign .
countries that dragged Germany into their own lawless-
ness and their own disputes ; it was they who taught
Germany the treacherous notion of the balance of power,
for they knew it to be one of the most effective means of
deluding Germany as to its own true advantage and of
keeping it in that state of delusion. This aim is now
sufficiently attained, and the result that was intended is
now complete before our eyes. Even if we cannot do away
with this result, why should we not at any rate extirpate
the source of it in our own understanding, which is now
almost the only thing over which we still have sovereign
power? Why should the old dream still be placed 'if

before our eyes, now that disaster has awakened us from

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sleep i Why should we not now at any rate see the truth
and perceive the only means that could have saved us ?
Perhaps our descendants may do what we see ought to
be done, just as we now suffer because our fathers dreamed.
Let us understand that the conception of an equilibrium
to be artificially maintained might have been a consoling
dream for foreign countries amid the guilt and evil that
oppressed them; but that this conception, being an entirely
foreign product, ought never to have taken root in the mind
of a German, and that the Germans ought never to have
been so situated that it could take root among them.
rXet us understand that now a,t any rate we must perceive
j the utter worthlessness of such a conception, and must see
J that the salvation of all is to be found, not in it, but Solely
' in the unity of the Germans among themselves.
^ 203. Just as foreign to the German is the freedom of
the seas, which is so frequently preached in our days,
whether what is intended be real freedom or merely the
power to exclude everyone else from it. Throughout the
course of centuries, while all other nations were in rivalry,
the German showed little desire to participate in this
freedom to any great extent, and he will never do so.
Moreover, he is not in need of it. The abundant supplies
of his own land, together with his own diligence, afford
him all that is needed in the life of a civilized man ; nor
does he lack skill in the art of making his resources serve
that purpose. As for acquiring the only true advantage
that world-trade brings in its train, viz., the increase
in scientific knowledge of the earth and its inhabitants,
his own scientific spirit will not let him lack a means of
. exchange. O, if only his kindly fortune had preserved
the German from indirect participation in the booty of
other worlds, as it preserved him from direct participa-
tion ! ': If only we had not been led by our credulity,

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and by the craving for a life as fine and as distinguished
as that of other peoples, to make necessaries of the wares
produced in foreign parts which we could do without ;
if only we had made conditions tolerable for our free i

fellow-citizen in regard to the wares we caii less easily I

do without, instead of wishing to draw a profit (rom the ' ^

sweat and blood of a poor slave across the seas ! [Then, 'f

at any rate, we should not ourselves have furnished the
pretext for our present fate ; war would not have been . >

waged against us as purchasers, nor would we have been
jiiined because we are a market-place. Almost* ten year*
ago, before anyone could foresee what has since happened, * r

the Germans were advised * to make themselves inde- r ^^^^^
pendent of world-trade, and to turn themselves into t
plosed-cuuiiueiLiaLSxite. This proposal ran counter to
our habits, and especially to our idolatrous veneration a

of -eoincd metal s ; it was passionately attacked and
thrust aside. Since then we have been learning, la
dishonour and under the compulsion of a foreign power, ^

to do without those things, and far more than those
things, which we then protested we could not do with- ,

out, though we might have done so then in freedom
and with the greatest honour to ourselves. O, that we
might seize this opportunity, since enjoyment at least
is not corrupting us, to correct our. ideas once for all !
O, that we might at last see that all those swindling
theories about world-trade and manufacturing for the
world-market, though they suit the foreigner and fbnii
part of the weapons with which he has always made war •>:

on us, have no application to the Germans ; and that, . ^

next to the unity of the Germans among therhselves^X
their internal autonomy and commercial independence^* • '

1 [In 1800 by Fichte himself in Der geschhssene Handflsstaat (Tht )

Closed Commercial State).) ^

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form the second means for their ^Ivation, and through
vthem for the salvation of Europe L^

204. Now, at last, let us be bold enough to look at
the dcceptive_^isipn of a * universal monarchy, which
people are beginning to hold up for public veneration in
place of that equilibrium which for some time has been
growing more and more preposterous, and let us perceive
howjiateful and contrary to reason that vision is. Spiri-
tual nature was able to present the essence of humanity
in extremely diverse gradations in individuals and in
individuality as a whole, in peoples. Only when each
people, left to itself, develops and forms itself in accord-
ance with its own peculiar quality, and only when in
every people each individual develops himself in accord-
ance with that common quality, as well as in accordance
with his own peculiar quality — then, and then only,
does the manifestation of divinity appear in its true
mirror as it ought to be ; and only a man who either
entirely lacks the notion of the rule of law and divine
order, or else is an obdurate enemy thereto, could take
upon himself to want to interfere with that law, which
is the highest law in the spiritual world. Only in the
invisible qualities of nations, which are hidden from
their own eyes — qualities as the means whereby these
nations remain in touch with the source of original
life— only therein is to be found the guarantee of their
present and future worth, virtue, and merit. If these
qualities are dulled by admixture and worn away by
friction, the flatness that results will bring about a
separation from spiritual nature, and this in its turn will
cause all men to be fused together to their uniform and
conjoint destruction. As for the writers who console us
for all our ills with the prospect that we, too, shall be
subjects of the new universal monarchy that is beginning

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— are we to believe them when they say that someone

or other has decided upon such a grinding together of

all the germs of what is human in humanity, in order to

press the unresisting dough into some new form, and !

that so monstrous an act of brutality or enmity against ^

the human race is possible in this age of ours i Even . >

if, in the first place, we were willing to make up our :,

minds to believe such an utterly incredible thing, the

further question arises : By what instrument is such a x

plan to be carried out ? What sort of people is it tcy

be which, in the present state of European culture, shall >

conquer the world for some new universal monarch i ;

For many centuries now the peoples of Europe have ceased

to be savages or to rejoice in destructive activity for its «

own sake. All men seek behind war a final peace, behind ^

exertion rest, behind confusion order ; and all men want

to see their career crowned with the peace of a quiet

and domestic life. For a time they may be made enthu- '

siastic for war even by the mere prospect of advantage

to the nation ; but when the call comes again and ^•

again in the same fashion, the delusion vanishes and

with it the feverish strength it produced. The longing <

for peace and order returns, and the question arises :

For what purpose am I doing and bearing all this ? ^

All these feelings a world-conqueror in our time would

first have to stamp out ; and, as the present age by its |

nature does not produce a race of .savages, he would have ; '

to create one with deliberate art. But more would

remain to be done. A man who has been accustomed

from youth upwards to cultivated and settled countries,

to prosperity and order, finds pleasure in these things ^

wherever he sees them, if he is but permitted to be at , .

peace for a little while; for they represent to him the , • T

background of his own longing, which after all can never I


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' be quite rooted out ; and it is a source of pain to himself
when he is obliged to destroy them. To offset this kindly
feeling, so deeply implanted in man as a social being,
and this grief and sorrow at the evils which the soldier
brings upon the countries he conquers, a counterpoise
must be found. Tl^re is no other than the lust for
booty.N If it becomes the soldier's dominating motive to
acquire a fortune for himself, and if he becomes accus-
tomed, when devastating flourishing countries, to think
of nothing but what he may gain for himself from the
general wretchedness, then it is to be expected that the
feelings of sympathy and pity will become silent in him.
In addition to that barbarous brutality, a world-con-
queror of our time would have to train his people to
coldblooded * and deliberate lust for booty ; he would
not have to punish extortions, but rather to encourage
them. Moreover, the disgrace that naturally adheres to

' such a thing would first of all have to be cleared away,
and jobbery would have to be looked upon as the honour-
able sign of a superior mind ; it would have to be reckoned
among great deeds and pave the way to all dignities and
honours. Where is there in modern Europe a nation so
lacking in honour that it could be trained up in this way ?
Even supposing that a world-conqueror succeeded in
reshaping a nation in this fashion ; the very means he takes
to do it will frustrate the attainment of his object. Such
a people will thenceforward regard the human beings,
the countries, and the works of art that they have acquired
by conquest, as nothing more than a means of making
money with all speed, so that they may move on and make
more money. They will extort rapidly, and when they
have sucked the juice out of a thing they will throw it
away, regardless of what may happen to it ; they will
cut down the tree whose fruits they want to reach. For


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a man who works with such tools as these all the arts of

seduction, persuasion, and deception will be in vain.

Only from a distance can such men deceive anyone ; as

soon as they are seen at close quarters, their brutal

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 19 of 22)