Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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Luther and by Germany in the reformation of the
Church ; and it may be that his forecast of some of the
good results that would follow upon the adoption of his
educational reforms is fantastic and overdrawn. The
fact, however, remains that these false and exaggerated
ideas are but small blemishes in the work ; theji
are easily explained, if not justified, when we considei
the desperate state of the times, the exalted aim of th(
lecturer, the peculiar difficulty of his task, and his enthu-
siastic personality. In any case they do not affect to an)
considerable extent the tremendous influence of th(
Addresses at the time, and their great importance foi
the understanding of subsequent periods.

It is impossible within the limits of this introductioi
to do anything like justice to the historical and politica
importance of the Addresses both for Germany and fo:
the world. It would be a most interesting and profitable
study to trace, for instance, the development and practica
consequences of Fichte's idea of the closed commercia
State, or to consider the influence of the principle o
nationality, which he so emphatically champions, upoi
the course of political development in Germany and ii
the rest of Europe during the nineteenth century. Ii
these and other directions it would be found that th

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Addresses are of the utmost importance, and fuUjr
justify Seeley's reference * to them as " the prophetical
or canonical book which announces and explains a great
transition in modern Europe and the prophecies of which
began to be fulfilled immediately after its publication/'
They certainly mark a definite stage in the political
evolution of modern Germany, for in them Fichte appears ' "
as one of the founders of a united Germany, and from
them date the regeneration of Prussia and the awakening
of a national spirit in Germany. They mark, too, an
epoch in the history of the world, for they show Fichte
as an apostle of the gospel of liberty, and proclaim that
principle^ of nationality which had far-reaching effects on '^%
the political Sfevelopment of Europe in the nineteenth

Nor is it possible here to do justice to their tremendous
effect on the development of education in Germany,
Stein was certainly influenced, especially by those Ad-
dresses which deal mainly with education ; he became an
ardent advocate of the reforms urged by Fichte, as the
educational schemes of his ministry testify. That part~^
"— "^f his political testament which concerns itself with
education seems also to have been inspired by Fichte's
influence.* More important still, however, is the fact
that the Addresses influenced Wilhelm von Humboldt,
whose ideas and plans for German education were carried
into effect in 1809 and 1810, and who selected Fichte
to be Professor of Philosophy in the new University of
Berlin in 1 8 10. Humboldt's work laid the real foundations
of modern German education, and it would be interesting
to show how Fichte's ideas helped to mould that educa-
tion in its origins and subsequent development.

It is not just because of their great significance in

^ Lifi o/Suin, ii, 41. * Ibid.^ p. 28 ; cf. p. 29s.

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the political and educational evolution of Germany and
\* of the rest of Europe, however, that the Addresses are

important and demand attention. The ideas they con-
tain are of value to-day as they were in 1808, and are
applicable not to one country alone but to every nation.^
The Addresses are essentially modern both in outlook and
in content. This is particularly true in regard to the
educational principles they embody, many of which are
only now being gradually accepted and put into practice.
On these grounds too, therefore, the views which Fichte

^^. 'i ' puts forward in his Addresses deserve close scrutiny and

/ ! careful consideration.

\ ^ ^ ^ It it interettiDg in this connection to note the conclusion of Ebeit*s

speech at the opening of the National Assembly at Weimar, reported in
the Tinus, February 8, 1919 : ** In this way we will set to work, our great
aim before us : to maintain the right of the German nation, to lay the
foundation in Germany for a strong democracy, and to bring it to adueye-
ment mth the true social spirit and in the socialistic way. Thus shall we
realize that which Fichte has given to the German nation as iu tasL We
want to establish a State of justice and truthfulness, founded on the
equality of all hununity."


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The following books may be recommended to the general
reader who desires to know more of Fichte's life and ideas.

The Popular Works of J. G. Fichte, Translated, with a
memoir, by William Smith. 2 vols. Chapman, London,
1848-9. 2nd edition, Trubner, 1873.

The Vocation of Man. Translated by William Smith. 2nd
edition. Open Court Publishing Co., Chicago, 1910.

FicHTE. By R. Adamson. Blackwood's Philosophical Qassics.

London, 1881.
FicHTE. Article, by R. Adamson, in Ency. Brit.^ I ith edition.

Life and Times of Stein. By J. R. Se^ley. 3 vols. Cam-
bridge University Press, 1878.

FicHTE ET SON Temps. By X. Lton. vol. 1. Armand Colin,
Paris, 1922.


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I. The addresses which I now commence I have an-
nounced as a continuation of the lectures which I gave
three winters ago in this place, and which were published
under the title: "Characteristics of the Present Age.**
In those lectures I showed that our own age was set in
the third great epoch of time,^ an epoch which had as the
motive of all its vital activities and impulses mere mate^
self-seeking ; that this age could comprehend and under-

1 [In accordance with his fundamental conception that the aim of
human life on earth is that mankind may consciously and vduntaril/^
order all its relations according to reason, Fichte distinguishes five epocki
in the life of the human race : (i) that in which those relations are ordered
by reason acting in the human race as blind instinct, /./., without man
having any insight into the grounds of its activity ; (2) that in which those
relations arc ordered by reason acting as an external ruling authority
upon the human race through its more powerful individual members,
in whom reason appears as the desire to raise the whole race to their level
by compelling blind faith and.unconditional obedience ; (3) that in which*
mankind frees itself, directly from the rule of reason as an external ruling
authority, indirectly from the dominion of reason as instinct, and generally
from reason in any form, and gives itself over to absolute indifference
towards all truth and to unrestrained licentiousness ; (4) that in which
mankind becomes conscious of reason and understands its laws with dear
scientific knowledge ; (5) that in which mankind, with clear conscioat->
ness and by its own free act, orders all its relations in accordance with the
laws of reason. See Lectures I. and II. on the Characteristics •J thf^
Present Age in Smith's translation of Fichte's Popular Worb.]



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stand itself completely only by recognising that as the
sole possible motive ; and, finally, that by this clear per-
ception of its own nature it was becoming deeply rooted
and immovably fixed in this its natural state of existence.
Time is taking giant strides with us more than with
any other age since the history of the world began. At
some point within the three years that have gone by since
my interpretation of the present age that epoch has
come to an end. At some point self-seeking has destroyed
i ' I itself, because by its own complete development it has

\'\'\ lost its self and the independence of that self; and since

it would not voluntarily set itself any other aim but self,
an external power has forced upon it another and a foreign
purpose. He who has once undertaken to interpret his
own age must make his interpretation keep pace with the
progress of that age, if progress there be. It is, there-
fore, my duty to acknowledge as past what has ceased to

I be the present, before the same audience to whom I

{ characterized it as the present.

2. Whatever has lost its independence has at the same
time lost its power to influence the course of events and
to determine these events by its own will. If it remain
in this state its age, and itself with the age, are conditioned
in their development by that alien power which governs
its fate. From now onwards it has no longer any time of
its own, but counts its years by the events and epochs of
alien nations and kingdoms. From this state, in which
all its past world is removed from its independent in-
fluence and in its present world only the merit of obed-
ience remains to it, it could raise itself only on condition
that a new world should arise for it, the creation of which
would begin, and its development fill, a new epoch of
its own in history. But, since it has once fallen under
alien power, this new World mUst be so constituted that


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it remains unperccived by that power, that it docs not
in any way arouse its jealousy ; nay more, that the alien
power itself is induced by its own interest to put no
obstacle in the way of the formation of such a world.
Now if, for a race which has lost its former self, its formcTl _
age and world, such a world should be created as the meant
of producing a new self and a new age, a thorough inter-
pretation of such a possible age would have to give an
account of the world thus created. "^

Now for my part I maintain that there is such a world,
and it is the aim of these addresses to show you its exist-
ence and its true owner, to bring before your eyes a living
picture of it, and to indicate the means of creating it*
In this sense, therefore, these addresses will be a con-^
tinuation of the lectures previously given on the then
existing age, because they will reveal the new era which •; *'
can and must directly follow the destruction of the
kingdom of self-seeking by an alien power. >

3* But, before I begin this task, I must ask you to assume
the following points so that they never escape your
memory, and to agree with me upon them wherever and^^
in so far as this is necessary.

{a) I speak for Germans simply, of Germans simply, — -
not recognizing, but setting aside completely and rejecting,
all the dissociating distinctions which for centuries un-
happy events have caused in this single nation. You,
gentlemen, are indeed to my outward eye the first and^
immediate representatives who bring before my mind
the beloved national characteristics, and are the vbible
spark at which the flame of my address is kindled. But
my spirit gathers round it the educated part of the whole
German nation, from all the lands in which they are
scattered. It thinks of and considers our common
positionand relations; it longs that part of the living



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force, with which these addresses may chance to grip
you, may also remain in and breathe from the dumb
printed page which alone will come to the eyes of the
absent, and may in all places kindle German hearts to
^decision and action. Only of Germans and simply for

^o ; Germans, I said. In due course we shall show that any /

other mark of unity or any other national bond either
never had truth and meaning or, if it had, that owing to
our present position these bonds of union have been
destroyed and torn from us and can never recur; it is
only by means of the common characteristic of being
German that we can avert the downfall of our nation
which is threatened by its fusion witjijoreign peoples,
I and win back again an individuality that is self-supporting

I and quite incapable of any dependence upon others.
^Vith our perception of the truth of this statement its
apparent conflict (feared now, perhaps, by many) with
other duties and with matters that are considered sacredj
will completely vanish. ^

Therefore, as I speak only of Germans in general, I

^V^ j" ^ shall proclaim that many things concern us which do not

apply in the first instance to those assembled here, just
as I shall pronounce as the concern of all Germans other
things which apply in the first place only to us. In the
spirit, of which these addresses are the expression, I
perceive that organic unity in which no member regards
the fate of another as the fate of a stranger. I behold
that unity (which shall and must arise if we are not to
perish altogether) already achieved, completed, and

(b) I assume as hearers not such Germans as are in
their whole nature completely given over to a feeling of
pain at the loss they have suffered, who take comfort in
this pain, luxuriate in their disconsolate grief, and think

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thereby to compromise with the call that summons them
to action ; but I assume such Germans as have already,
risen, or at least arc capable of rising, above this justifiable
pain to clear thought and meditation. I know that
pain ; I have felt it . as much as anyone ; I respect it.
Apathy, which is satisfied if it find meat and drink and be
not subjected to bodily pain, and for which honour, free-
dom, and independence are empty names, is incapable of
it. -Pain, however, exists merely to spur us on to'reflec- ^
tion, decision, and action. If it fails in this ultimate
purpose, it robs us of reflection and of all our remaining
powers, and so completes our misery ; while, moreover, ^'
as witness to our sloth and cowardice, it affords the
visible proof that we deserve our misery. But j do hot
injhg lea&tjntend to lift you above this pahi by holding
out' hopes of any help which will come to you from out-
side, and by indicating all kindle of possible events and
changes which time may perchance bring., about. For
even if this attitude of mind, which prefers to roam in
the shifting world of possibilities rather than to stick
to what must be done, and would rather owe its salva-^^
tion to blind chance than to itself, did not already in
itself afford evidence, as it really does, of the most criminal
levity and of the deepest self-contempt, yet all hopes
and indications of this kind have absolutely no applica-
tion to our position. Strict proof can, and in due course^
will, be given that no man and no god and not one of all
the events that are within the bounds of possibility can
help us, but that we alone must help ourselves if help ist^
to come to us. Rather shall I try to lift you above that.,,
pain by clear perception of our position, of our yet remain-
ing strength, and of the means of our salvation. For
that purpose I shall, it is true, demand of you a certain
amount of reflection, some spontaneous activity, and some

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sacrifice, and reckon therefore on hearers of whom so much
may be expected. The demands I make, howevej, are on
the whole easy, and presuppose no greater amount of
strength than one may, I think, expect of our age; as'
for danger, there is absolutely none.

(r) Since I intend to give the Germans, as such, a clear
view of their present position, I shall assume as hearers
such as are disposed to see things of this sort with their
own eyes, and by no means such as find it easier in their
consideration of these matters to have foisted upon them
a strange and foreign eyeglass, which is either deliber-
ately intended to deceive, or never properly suits a Ger-
man eye, because it has a different angle of vision and is
not fine enough. Moreover, I presuppose that such
hearers, when looking at these things with their own
eyes, will have the courage to look honestly at what cloes
exist and to admit candidly to themselves what they see,
and that they either have conquered already, or at least
are capable of conquering, the tendency (frequently
manifested) to deceive oneself concerning one's own
affairs, and to present to the mind a less displeasing
picture of them than is consistent with the truth. This
tendency is a cowardly flight from one's own thoughts ;
and it is a childish attitude of mind which seems to
believe that, if only it does not see its misery, or at least
does not admit that it sees it, this misery will thereby
be removed in reality, even as it is removed in thought.
On the oiher hand, it is. manly courage to look evil full in
the f ac«, to compel it to make a stand, to scrutinize it
calmly,^ roolly, and freely, and to resolve it into its com-
ponent parts. Moreover, by this clear perception alone
is it possible to master evil and to proceed with sure step
in the fight against it. For the man who sees the whole
in each part always knows where he stands, and is sure

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of his ground by reason of the insight he has once gained ;
whereas another man^ lacking sure clue or definite cer-
tainty, gropes blindly in a dream.

Why, then, should we be afraid of this clear perception I
Evil does not become less through ignorance, nor increase
through knowledge ; indeed it is only by the latter that «
it can be cured. But the question of blame shall not be
raised here. Let sloth and self-seeking be censured with
bitter reprimand, with biting sarcasm and cutting scom^
and let them be provoked, if to nothing better, at least
to bitter hatred of him who gives the reminder — such
hatre d is a t any rate a powerful impulse i, let Ais be done,
so long as the incvitabl&.rcsult, thexvil^is^ftetfuUy accom-
plished, and so long as salvation or mitigftfioR may still
r be expected from any improvement. But, when this
evil is so complete that we are deprived of even the pos-
sibility of sinning again in the same way, it is useless and
looks like malicious joy to continue to rail against a sin
that can no longer be committed. The consideration
immediately drops put of the sphere of ethics into that
of history, for which freedom is ended, and which regardr'^
an event as the inevitable consequence of what has gone
before. For our addresses there remains no other view
of the present than this last, and we shall therefore never
I adopt any other.

This attitude of mind, therefore, that we consider!
ourselves simply Germans, that we be not held captive "^.
even by pain itself, that we vnsh to see the truth and have \T
the courage to look it in the face, I presuppose and reckon v'
upon in every word that I shall say* If, therefore, any- j
one should bring another attitude of mind to this meeting,
he would have to attribute solely to himself the unpleasant
feelings which might be caused him here. Let this then
be said once for all, and finished with. I proceed now

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to my other task, namely, to put before you in a
general survey the contents of all the addresses that are
^ to follow.

4* At some point, I said at the beginning of my address,
self-seeking has destroyed itself by its own complete
' development, because thereby it has lost its self and the
power of fixing its aims independently. This destruction
of self-seeking, now accomplished, constitutes both that
progress of the age which I have mentioned and the com-
pletely new event which, in my opinion, has made a
continuation of my previous description of that age both
possible and necessary. This destruction would, therefore,
be our real present, to which our new life in a new world
(the existence of which I likewise maintained) would have
to be directly linked. It would, therefore, be also the
proper starting-point for my addresses, and I should have
to show above all how and why such a destruction of
self-seeking must result inevitably from its highest develop-

Self-seeking is most highly developed when, after it has

first affected, with insignificant exceptions, the whole body

of subjects, it thereupon masters the rulers and becomes

their sole motive in life. In such a government there

arises first of all, outwardly, the neglect of all the ties by

which its own safety is bound up with the safety of other

States, the abandoning of the whole, of which it is a part,

solely in order that it may not be roused from its slothful

2, ' [Tsleep, and thejad illusion of self-seeking that it has peace^

if only its own frontiers are not attacked ; then, inwardly,

that feeble handling of the reins of State wjiich calls

I itself in alien words humanity, liberality, and popularity,

I ^ but which in German is more truly called slackness and

[unworthy conduct.

When it masters the rulers too, I said. A people can



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be completely corrupted, 1.^., self-seeking — for self-
seeking is the root of all other corruption — and yet at
the same time not only endure, but even outwardly
accomplish splendid deeds, provided only that its govern-
ment be not also corrupt. Indeed, the latter may even
outwardly act treacherously, disloyally, and dishonourably,
if only it have inwardly the courage to hold on to the
reins of government with a strong hand and to win for
itself the greater fear. But where all the circumstances
I have mentioned are combined, the commonwealth
collapses at the first serious attack which is made upon
it, and just as it first disloyally severed itself from the
body of which it was a member, so now its own members,
who are restrained by no fear of it and are spurred on by the
greater fear of a foreign power, cut themselves off from
it with the same disloyalty and go each his own way.
At this, the greater fear once more seizes those who now
remain isolated ; and where they gave sparingly and most
unwillingly to the defender of their country, to the enemy
'they give abundantly and with a forced look of cheer-
fulness. Later on, the rulers, abandoned and betrayed
on all sides, are compelled to purchase their further exis-
tence by submission and obedience to foreign schemes ;
and so those, who in battle for their country threw away
their arms, now learn to wield those same arms bravely
under foreign colours against their mother - country.
Jlius it comes about that self-seeking is destroyed by its
own complete development ; and upon those who would
not voluntarily set themselves any other aim but self,
another aim is imposed by alien power^

5* No nation which has sunk into this state of depend-
ence can raise itself out of it by the means which have
usually been adopted hitherto. Since resistance was use-
less to it when it was still in possession of all its powers.

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what can such resistance avail now that it has been
deprived of the greater part of them ? What might
previously have availed, namely, if its government had

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 2 of 22)