Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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roughness and their shameless and insolent lust for ^

booty will be obvious even to the feeblest mind ; and 1 . *

the detestation of the whole human race will cry aloud *^

upon them. With such tools as these one can indeed

plunder and lay waste the earth, and grind it down to x

stupor and chaos, but one can never establish it as a

universal monarchy.

205. The ideas we have mentioned, and all ideas of ;^:

this kind, are products of a form of thinking which merely
plays a game with itself and sometimes, too, gets caught
in its own cobwebs — a form of thinking which is unworthy . '

of German thoroughness and earnestness. At best^ ^

some of these ideas, as, for example, that of a political
equilibrium, are serviceable guiding-lines to enable one \

to find one's way about in the extensive and confused ^\

multiplicity of phenomena and to set it in order; but H

to believe that these things exist in nature, or to strive
to realize them, is the same as to expect to find the poles,-
the meridians, and the tropics, by which our survey of
the earth is guided, actually marked and indicated on the
surface of the globe. May it become the custom in our
nation, hot merely. to think idly and as it were experi-*
mentally, just to see what will come of it, but to think
in such a way that what we think shall be true and have
a real effect in life ! Then it will be superfluous to warn
people against such phantoms of a political wisdom whose
origin is foreign and which only deludes the Germans.

This thoroughness, earnestness, and weightiness in
our way of thinking, once we have made it our own, will * ; f

show itself in our life as well. We are defeated ; whether [


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we are now to be despised as well, and rightly despised,
whether in addition to all other loslses we are to lose
our honour also— that will still depend on ourselves.

\Thc fight with weapons has ended; there arises now,

•if we so will it, the new fight of principles, of morals, of


2o6.>Let us give our guests a picture of faithful devo-
tion to^f riends and fatherland, of incorruptible uprightness

/ and love of duty, of all civic and domestic virtues, to take
home with them as a friendly gift from their hosts;
for they will return home at last some time or other._
)Let us be careful not to invite them to despise us ; there
would, however, be no surer way for us to do this than if
we either feared them beyond measure or gave up our
own way of life and strove to resemble them in theirs.
Be it far from us as individuals to be so unmannerly as
to provoke or irritate individuals ; but, as to the rest, our
safest measure will be to go our own way in all things,
as if we were alone with ourselves, and not to establish
any relation that is not laid upon us by absolute neces-
sity ; and the surest means to this will be for each one
to content himself with what the old national conditions
are able to afford him, to take up his share of the common
burden according to his powers, but to look upon any
favour from foreigners as a disgrace and a dishonour.
XJhfortunately, it has become an almost general European
custom, and therefore a German custom too, for people
to prefer to descend to the level of others, rather than
to appear what is called singular or noticeable, when the
choice is open to them ; indeed, the whole system of
'what are esteemed good manners may perhaps be regarded
as based upon that one principle. Let us Germans at
the present juncture offend rather aj^ainst this code of
manners than against something higher. Let us remain

I !

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as we are, even though that may be an offence of this
kind ; nay, let us become, if we can, even stronger and >^

more determined, as we ought to be. It is the custom to
tell us that we are sorely lacking in quickness and ease and f

grace, and that we grow too serious, too hea;7y, and too i

ponderous over everything. Let us not be in the least ^ ; ^

ashamed of this, but rather strive to deserve the accusa-
tion more and more fully and to an ever greater extent.
y Let us confirm ourselves in this resolve by the conviction,
^ which is easily, to be attained, that in spite of all the
^trouble we take, we shall never do right in the eyes of i /

t^ our accusers, unless we cease entirely to be ourselves, ! . '

u which is the same thing as ceasing to exbt at alL There . \

are certain peoples who, while preserving their own special » .

characteristics and wishing to have them respected by ' <

others, yet recognize the special characteristics of other
peoples, and permit and encourage their retention. To
such peoples the Germans belong without a doubt ; and k

this trait is so deeply marked in their whole life in the c

world, both past and present, that very often, in order k

to be just both to contemporary foreign countries and to T -

antiquity, they have been unjust to themselves.^Then '^

there are other peoples, whose ego is so closely wrapped
up in itself that it never allows them the freedom to x

detach themselves for the purpose of taking a cool and <

calm view of what is foreign to them, and who are there-
fore compelled to believe that there is only one possible
way of existence for a civilized human being, and that is
always the way which some chance or other has indicated M
to them alone at the time ; the rest of mankind all over '
the world have no other destiny, in their opinion, than to
become just what they are, and ought to be extremely
grateful to them if they take upon themselves the trouble [ , ^

of moulding them in this way. Between peoples of the j[

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former type there takes place an Interaction of culture
and education which is most beneficial to the develop-
ment of man as such, and an interpenetration which none
the less allows each one, with the goodwill of the other,
to remain its own self. Peoples of the latter type are
unable to form anything, for they are unable to apprehend
anything in its actual state of existence ; they only want
-\to destroy everything that exists and to create every-
where, except in themselves, a void in which they can
^reproduce their own image and never anything else.
Even their apparent acceptance of foreign ways when
they begin is only gracious condescension on the part of
the tutor to the still feeble but promising pupiL Even
the figures of the ancient world that has come to an end
do not please them, until they have clad them in their own
garments ; and they would call them from their graves,
/"if they had the power, to train them after their own
/ fashion. [Far from me be the presumption of accusing
any existing nation as a whole and without exception of
such narrow-mindedness.^ Let us rather assume that
\ here, too, those who express no opinion are the better
^ sort. But if those who have appeared among us and
expressed their opinions are to be judged by the opinions
they have expressed, it seems to follow that they are to
be placed nn the class we have described. As such a
statement appears to require proof, I adduce the following,
passifig over in silence the other manifestations of this
spirit which arc before the eyes of Europe. Wc have
been at war with each other ; as for us, we are defeated,
and they are the victors ; that is true, and is admitted ;
with that our opponents might doubtless be contented*
But if anyone among us went on to maintain that never-
\ theless we had had the just cause and deserved the victory,
^nd that it was to be deplored that victory had not fallen

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to us ; would this be so very wrong, and could those

opponents, who, of course, for cheir own part may likewise

think what they will, take it amiss that we should be of

this opinion ? But no, we must not dare to think thatr/- f

We must at the same time recognize how wrong it is |

ever to have a will other than theirs, and to resist them ; ; ,

we must bless our defeats as the best thing that could

happen to us, and bless them as our greatest benefactors.

It cannot be otherwise, and they hope this much of our ^

good sense. But why should I go on expounding what

was expounded with great exactness almost two thousand.

years ago, for example, in the Histories of Tacitus M- ! ■

That opinion of the Romans as to the relationship of !

the conquered barbarians towards them, an opinion which

in their case was founded on a view of things that had

some excuse, the opinion that it was criminal rebellion

and insurrection against divine and human laws to offer

resistance to them, and that their arms could bring

nothing but blessing to the nations, and their chains J

nothing but honour — it is this opinion that has been K

formed about us in these days ; with great good-nature

they expect us to hold it about ourselves, and they assume |r

in advance that we do hold it. I do not take these

utterances as evidence of arrogance and scorn ; I can ^x

understand how such opinions may be held in earnest

by people who are very conceited and narrow-minded,

and how they can honestly impute the same belief to >

their opponents, just as I believe that the Romans really

thought so ; but I only raise a doubt as to whether those

among us, whose conversion to that way of thinking is

for ever impossible, can reckon upon an agreement of

any kind whatever.

207. We shall bring the deep contempt of foreigners
upon ourselves if in their hearing we accuse each other^

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it f


' German races, classes, and persons, of being responsible
for the fate that has befallen every one of us, and bitterly
and passionately reproach each other. In the first place,
all accusations of this kind are for the most part unfair,
unjust, and unfounded. The causes that have brought
about Germany's latest doom we have already indicated ;
these causes have for centuries been native to all German
races without exception in the same way ; the latest
events are not the consequences of any particular error
of any one race or its government ; they have been in
preparation long enough, and might just as well have
happened to us long ago, if it had depended solely on
the causes that lie within our own selves. In this matter
. the guilt or innocence of all is, one may say, equally
great, and a reckoning is no longer possible. When the
final result came about in haste, it was found that the

^.separate German States did not even know themselves,
their powers, and their true situation ; how, then, could
any one of them have the presumption to look beyond its
ovm borders and pronounce upon the guilt of others a
final judgment based on thorough knowledge ?

208. It may be that in every race of the German
fatherland the blame falls with more reason on one
special class, not because it did not have more insight or
greater ability than all the others, for in that respect
all were equally to blame, but because it pretended that
it had more insight and greater ability, and kept everyone
else away from the work of administration in the various
States. But, even if a reproach of this kind were well
founded, who is to utter it, and why is it necessary to
utter and discuss it, just at this moment, more loudly
and more bitterly then ever ? We see tjiat men of letters
are doing this. If they spoke just as they do now in the
days when all power and all authority were in the hands of

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that class, with the tacit approval of the decisive majority
of the rest of mankind, who can object if they bring to
remembrance what they then said, now that it has been
only too well confirmed by experience ? We hear also
that they bring certain persons by name before the i

tribunal of the people, persons who formerly stood at *

the head of affairs, that they set forth their incapacity, ^

their indolence, and their evil will, and clearly show how
from such causes such effects were bound to follow. If, >

when power was still in the hands of the accused persons,
and when the evils that were the inevitable result of \ \-

their administration could have been warded off, these ' t

writers saw what they now see and expressed it just as
loudly ; if they then accused with the same vigour those ' ,

whom they now find guilty, and if they left no means
untried to rescue the fatherland out of their hands, >

and if no one listened to them ; then, they do well to
recall to mind the warning that was scornfully rejected.
But, if they have derived their present wisdom only from |

the course of events, from which all people since then
have derived with them exactly the same wisdom, why
do they now say what everyone else now knows just as ^■

well ?^ * Or further, if in those days from motives of gain
they flattered, or from motives of fear they remained *^

silent before, that class and those persons on whom, now
that they have lost power, they pour the full stream of '

denunciation ; then, let them not forget henceforth, when
they are stating the causes of our present miseries, to
put with the nobility and the incompetent ministers and .;

generals the writers on politics also, who know only after
the event what ought to have been done, just like the ^

common people, and who flatter the holders of power, j »

but with malicious joy deride the fallen ! * i|

Or do they blame the errors of the past, which for all [

16 :

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their blame is indestructible, only in order that they may
not be repeated in the future ; and is it solely their zeal
to bring about a thorough improvement in human affairs
which makes them so bold in disregarding all considera-
tions of prudence and decency ? Gladly would we credit
them with such goodwill, if only they were entitled by
thorough insight and thorough understanding to have
goodwill in this matter. It is not so much the particular
persons who happen to have been in the highest places,
/ but the connection and complication of the whole, the
— j whole spirit of the age, the errors, the ignorance, shallow-
ness, timidity, and the uncertain tread inseparable from
these things, it is the whole way of life of the age that has
brought these miseries upon us ; and so it is far less the
persons who have acted than the places ; it is everyone's
fault ; and everyone, even the violent fault-finders
themselves, may assume with great probability that if
they had been in the same place they would have been
forced by their surroundings to much the same end.
Let us not dream so much of deliberate wickedness and
treachery ! Stupidity and indolence are in nearly every
jcase sufficient to explain the things that have happened ;
and this is a charge of which no one should entirely clear
himself without searching self-examination. Especially in
a state of affairs where there is in the whole mass a very
great measure of indolence, the individual who is to force
his way through must possess the power of action in a
very high degree. So, even if the mistakes of individuals
are ever so sharply singled out, that does not in any way
lay bare the cause of the evil ; nor is this cause removed by
avoiding these mistakes in future. So long as men remain
liable to error, they cannot do otherwise than commit
errors ; and even if they avoid those of their predecessors,
in the infinite space of liability to error they will all too

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easily make new errors of their own. Qnly^jiompletc
regeneration, only the beginning of an entirely new spirit
can help us. If they co-operate for the development of
this new spirit, we shall be ready and willing to give V

them credit, not only for goodwiU, but also for right and i,

saving understanding. \^*

209. These mutual reproaches, besides being unjust , <?

and useless, are extremely unwise, and must degrade us
deeply in the eyes of foreigners ; we not only make it >

easy for them to find out all about us, but positively \y^ ; ^

force the knowledge on them in every way. If wc never ; ^

grow weary of telling them how confused and stale all i^

things were with us, and how miserably we were governed^ ' t

must they not believe that no matter how they behave ' :

towards us they are none the less much too good for us^
and can never become too bad ? Must they not believe
that, because of our great clumsiness and helplessness^
we are bound to accept with the humblest thanks any
and every thing out of the rich store of their art of govern- \

ment, administration, and legislation that they have
already presented to us, or have in contemplation for us
in the future ? Is there any need for us to confirm their
already not unfavourable opinion of themselves and the
low opinion they have of us ? Do not certain utterances,
which would otherwise have to be taken as evidence of \

bitter scorn — for example, that they have been the first
to bring a fatherland to German jcountries, which previ-
ously had none, or that they have abolished that slavish
dependence of persons, as such, on other persons, which ;

used to be established by law among us — do not such
utterances, when we remember what we ourselves have ^

said, show themselves as a repetition of our own statements t '

and an echo of our own flattering speeches ? It is a ' f

disgrace, which we Germans share with no other of .the f

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European peoples whose fate in other respects has been
similar to ours, that, as soon as ever foreign arms ruled
over us, we behaved as if we had long been aw?iting this

v^noment, and sought to do ourselves a good turn quickly,
before it was too late, by pouring forth a stream of denun-
ciation on our governments and our rulers, v^hom we
had formerly flattered in a way that offended against
good taste, and by railing against everything represented
by the word " fatherland*''

210. How shall those of us who are not guilty ward off
the disgrace from our heads and let the guilty ones stand
by themselves ? There is a means* ' No more scurrilous
denunciations will be printed the moment it is certain
that no more will be bought, and as soon as their authors
and publishers can no longer reckon on readers tempted to
buy them for lack of something better to do, by idle
curiosity and love of gossip, or by the malicious joy of
seeing those men humiliated who at one time instilled
into them the painful feeling of respect/ Let everyone
who feels the disgrace hand back with fitting contempt a
libel that is offered him to read ; let him do this, although
he believes he is the only one who acts in this way, until
it becomes the custom among us for every man of honour
to do the same ; and then, without any enforcement of
restrictions on books, we shall soon be free of this scanda-

^lous portion of our literature.

211* Finally, we debase ourselves most of all before
^'' foreigners when we lay ourselves out to flatter them.
In former days certain persons among us made themselves
contemptible, ludicrous, and nauseating beyond measure
by burning thick incense before our own rulers on every
occasion, and by caring for neither sense nor decency,
neither taste nor good manners, when they thought
there was a chance of delivering a flattering address.

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This practice has ceased at this time, and these paeans of

praise have been transformed in some cases into words

of abuse. However, in order not to get out of practice,

as it were, we gave our clouds of incense another direction

and turned them towards the place where power now i

resides. Even the old way — and not only the flattery * *'

itself, but also the fact that it was not declined — could <

not but give pain to every serious-minded German-;

still, we kept it to ourselves. Are we now going to maki >

foreigners also the witnesses of this base craving of oursi

and of the great clumsiness with which we give vent to it j^ 1 ',

and are we thus going to add to the contemptible exhibn ^ »

tion of our baseness the ludicrous demonstration of our

lack of adroitness? For, when we set about these things, ' |

we are lacking in all the refinement that the foreigner

possesses ; so as to avoid not being heard, we lay it on >

thick and exaggerate everything; we begin straight

away with deifications and place our heroes among the ; ^

stars. Another thing is that we give the impression of ^

being driven to these paeans of praise chiefly by fear and /

terror ; but there is nothing more ridiculous than a : ^

frightened man who praises the beauty and graciousness ^•■

of a creature which in fact he takes to be a monster,

and which he merely seeks to bribe by his flattery not to ^

swallow him up.

212. Or are these hymns of praise perhaps not flattery, (
but the genuine expression of reverence and admiration
which they are compelled to pay to the great genius who,
according to them, now directs the aflfairs of mankind ?
How little they know, in this case too, the character of
true greatness ! In all ages and among all peoples true
greatness has remained the same in this respect,
was not vain ; just as, on the other hand, whatever

displayed vanity has always been beyond a doubt base ^

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and petty. True greatness, resting on itself, finds no
pleasure in monuments erected by contemporaries, or
in being called ^* The Great," or in the shrieking applause
and praises of the mob ; rather, it rejects these things
with fitting contempt, and awaits first the verdict on
itself from its own indwelling judge, and then the public
verdict from the judgment of posterity. YTrue greatness
has always had this further characteristic : It is filled with,
awe and reverence in the face of dark and mysterious
fate, it is mindful of the ever-rolling wheel of destiny,
and ne^r allows itself to be counted great or happy before
its endJ Hence, those who hymn its praises contradict
themselves, and by using words they make their words a
lie. If they believed that the object of their pretended
veneration was really great, they would humbly admit
that he was exalted above their acclamations and lauda-
tion, and they would honour him by reverent silence.
I By making it their business to praise him they show that
in fact they take him to be petty and base, and so vain
.that their hymns of praise can give him pleasure, and
Ithat they hope thereby to divert some evil from them-
selves, or procure themselves some benefit.

That cry of enthusiasm : ^^ What a sublime genius !
What profound wisdom ! What a comprehensive plan ! **
— ^what after all does it mean when we look at it properly ?
It means that the genius is so great that we, too, can
fully understand it, the wisdom so profound that we, too,
can see through it, the plan so comprehensive that we,
too, are able to imitate it completely. ' Hence it means
that he who is praised has about the s'ame measure of
greatness as he who praises ; and yet not quite, for the
latter, of course, understands the former fully and is
superior to him ; hence, he stands above him and, if he-
only exerted himself thoroughly, could no doubt achieve

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something even greater^ ^ He must have a veiy good
opinion of himself who believes that he can pay court
acceptably in this way ; and the one who is praised must
have a very low opinion of himself if he finds pleasure in
such tributes.

213. No! Good> earnest, steady German men and
countrymen, far from our spirit be such a lack of under-
standing, and far be such defilement from our language,
which is formed to express the truth, l Let us leave it
to foreigners to burst into jubilation and amazement
at every new phenomenon, to make a new standard of
greatness every decade, to create new gods, and to speak
blasphemies in order to please human beings. ;^Let our
standard of greatness be the old one : that alone is great
which is capable of receiving the ideas which always bring
nothing but salvation upon the peoples, and which is
inspired by those ideas. But, as regards the living, let

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 20 of 22)