Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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us leave the verdict to the judgment of posterity^


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214. In the addresses which I conclude to*day, I have
spoken aloud to you first of all, but I have had in view
the whole German nation, and my intention has been to
gather round me, in the room in which you are bodily
present, everyone in the domain of the German language
^^ho is able to understand me. If I have succeeded in
throwing into any heart which has beaten here in front of
me a spark which will continue to glow there and to
influence its life, it is not my intention that these hearts
should remain apart and lonely ; I want to gather to them
from over the whole of our common soil men of similar
sentiments and resolutions, and to link them together,
so that at this central point a single, continuous, and
unceasing flame ofpatriptic disposition may be kindled,
' which will spread over the whole soil of the fatherland
to its utmost boundaries. These addresses have not been
meant for the entertainment of indolent ears and eyes
in the present age ; on the contrary, I want to know once
for all, and everyone of like disposition shall know it with
me, whether there is anyone besides ourselves whose way of
thinking is akin to ours. Every German who still believes
himself to be a member of a nation, who thinks highly
and nobly of that nation, hopes for it, ventures, endures,
and suffers for it, shall at last have the uncertainty of his


» li'^

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belief removed ; he shall see clearly whether he is right
or is only a fool and a dreamer ; from now on he shall
either pursue his way with the glad consciousness of
certainty, or else firmly and vigorously renounce a '

fatherland here below, and find in the heavenly one his * {

only consolation. To them, not as individuals in our : '^

everyday limited life, but as representatives of the nation^ , *^.

and so through their ears to the whole nation, these
addresses make this appeal : — s

215. Centuries have come and gone since you were last
/ convoked as you are to-day ; in such numbers ; in a cause ; :[-

I so great, so urgent, and of such concern to all and every- i' ^

one ; so entirely as a nation and as Germans. Never \C

again will the offer come to you in this way. If you now * ;

take no heed and withdraw into yourselves, if you again
let these addresses go by you as if they were meant merely .^^

to tickle your ears, or if you regard them as something
strange and fabulous, then no human being will ever take *
you into account again. Hearken now at last; reflect ^ \

now at last. Go not from your place this time at Icas^. c^, ^'^ ;■

without first making a firm resolution ; and let everyone 'i-*^''^ ! *

who hears my voice make this resolution by himself and
for himself, just as if he were alone and had to do everything !
alone. If very many individuals think in this 'way, there]
will soon be formed a large community which will be
fused into a single close-connected force. But if, on the
contrary, each one, leaving himself out, puts his hope in
the rest and leaves the matter to others, then there will
be no others, and all together will remain as thqr were
before. Make it on the spot, this resolution. Do not
say : '^ Let us rest a little longer, let us sleep and dream a
little longer, till the improvement comes of itself.-* It i

will never come of itself. He* who has once let yesterday ' [i

go by, which would have been a more convenient time [

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for reflection, and yet cannot use his will to-day, will be
still less able 'to do so to-morrow. Every delay makes us
all the more indolent, and cradles us still more deeply

,,jn the habit of familiarity with our wretched condition.
Then, too, the external motives to reflection can never be
stronger or more urgent. He who is not aroused by the
present situation has beyond a doubt lost all power of
feeling. You are convoked to make a firm and final resolu-
tion and decision ; and in no wise to give a command, an
order, an incitement to others, but an incitement to your-

^^elves. You must make a resolution of a kind which each
one can carry out only by himself and in his own person.
In this matter the leisurely indication of an intention does
not suffice,' nor the will to exert a will at some future
time, nor yet the indolent resolve to submit some time
or other to what is proposed, if one should meanwhile of
one's self have become a better man. No, you are called
• upon to make a resolve that will itself be part of your
life, a resolve that is itself a deed within you, that endures
there and continues to hold sway without being moved or
shaken, a resolve that never grows cold, until it has
attained its object.

216. Or is, perchance, the root, from which alone such
a resolution can spring and have an influence on life,
completely destroyed, and has it disappeared ? Is your
whole being in truth and in fact thinned and reduced
to an empty shadow, without sap and blood and power
of motion ; reduced to a dream in which bright visions
are begotten and busily pursue each other, but where the
body lies stiff and as it were dead ? This age has long been
told to its face, and has heard it repeated in every shape
and form, that this or something like it is the general
opinion. Its spokesmen have believed that people who
said this only wanted to slander them, and have regarded

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it as a challenge to themselves to slander in return^

supposing that the natural order of things would thereby '^

be restored. Yet there has not been the least trace of

any alteration or improvement. But if you have under- f\

stood the indictment, if it has succeeded in making you ' ^^

indignant, then by your acts give the lie to those who .. <>

think and speak thus of you ; show before the eyes of \,

all the world that you are different, and then those men

in the eyes of all the world will be convicted of untruth. : ^

Perchance it was precisely with the intention of being

refuted by you in this way, and because they despaired i '

of any other means of rousing you, that they spoke of \ \-

you as harshly as they did. If that was the case, how \ /

much better disposed towards you they were than those ' \

who flatter you, in order that you may be kept in sloth "

and quietude and all-unheeding thoughtlessness I

However weak and powerless you may be, never before
has clear and calm reflection been made so easy for you as : ^^

at the present time. The thing that really plunged us ' \.

into confusion as to our position, that caused our thought- ' "^

lessness, our blind acquiescence in all that happened, was •['

pur_sweet self-satisfaction ; we were satisfied with our- ' >

selves and our way of life. Things had gone on all right
hitherto and continued to go on just the same. If anyone l

challenged us to reflection, we triumphantly pointed out
to him, in place of any other refutation, our existence and . -

continuance, which came about, without any reflection '

on our part. But things went on all right solely because '

we had not been put to the test. Since then we have gone
through it. Since that time the deceptions, the illusions,
the false consolation, by which we all led each other •>

mutually astray, have surely collapsed. The inborn , ,

prejudices which, without proceeding from any one place, . \ r

spread themselves like a natural fog over everyone, and \

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enveloped everyone in the same twilight — surely they have
vanished now ! That twilight no longer binds our eyes ;
moreover, it can no longer serve us as an excuse. Here
we stand now, bare and empty, with all external coverings
and hangings taken away, just as we are ourselves. Now
there must be revealed what that self is or is not.

217. Perhaps someone may come forward from among
you and ask me : ^* What gives you alone of all German
men and writers the special task, the vocation, and the
right to assemble us and press your views upon us ?
Would not each one of the thousands of Germany's
men of letters have just as much right to it as you i
Not one of them does it, but you alone thrust yourself
forward.** I answer that, of course, everyone would have

\^ the same right as I have, that I am doing it solely because
^ot one of them has done it before me, and that I would
be silent if another had already done it. This was the
first step to the goal of a thorough reformation ; someone
or other had to take it. I was the first one to see it
vividly; therefore it fell to me to take the first step.
After this some other step will be the second ; all have
now the same right to take this step ; but once again
it will in fact be one man, and one man only, who does
take it. There must always be one who is first ; then let
him be first who can !

218. Without troubling yourselves about this objection,
let your gaze rest for a little while upon the view to which
we have already conducted you, viz., in what an enviable
condition Germany would be, and the world as well, if
the former had known how to make use of the good for-
tune due to its position and to recognize its advantages.
Let your eye dwell upon what both are now, and make
yourselves feel to the quick the pain and indignation
which must seize every noble-minded man when he

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beholds it. Turn back then to your own selves and see

that it is you whom time will free from the errors of the

preceding ages and from whose eyes it will remove the

misty if you permit it ; that it is granted to you, as to ^

no generation before you, to undo what has been done /' ^

and to delete the discreditable intervening period from . . <.

the pages of German history. -^^ i

Review in your own minds the various conditions
between which you now have to make a choice. If ^

you continue in your dullness and helplessness, all the
evils of serfdom are awaiting you ; deprivations, humilia-
tions, the scorn and arrogance of the conqueror ; you will y .
be driven and harried in every corner, because you are * /
in the wrong and in the way everywhere ; until, by the »
sacrifice of your nationality and your language, you have /
purchased for yourselves some subordinate and petty
place, and until in this way you gradually die out as a '
people. If, on the other hand, you bestir yourselves and j • '
play the man, you will continue in a tolerable and hon- | ' f
ourable existence, and you will see growing up among \
and around you a generation that will be the promise for \
you and for the Germans of most illustrious renown. \
You will see in spirit the German name rising by means \
of this generation to be the most glorious among all \
peoples; you will see this nation the regenerator and^^ !
re-creator of the world.

219. It depends on you whether you want to be the
end, and to be the last of a generation unworthy of res]
and certain to be despised by posterity even beyond its
due — a generation of whose history (if, indeed, there can
be any history in the barbarism that will then begin) your x

descendants will read the end with gladness, saying that j ,

its fate was just ; or whether you want to be the beginning 1 ^

and the point of development for a new age glorious 5.


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^ i

t ]

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, beyond all your conceptions, and the generation from whom
; posterity will reckon the year of their Salvation. Reflect
that you are the last in whose power this great alteration
lies. You have, even in your day, heard the Germans
spoken of as one ; you have seen or have heard of a visible
sign of their unity, an empire and an imperial federa-
tion ; among you voices have made themselves heard
from time to time which were inspired by the higher
love of fatherland. Those who come after you will
accustom themselves to other ideas, will adopt alien
forms and another way of conducting life and affairs ;
and how long will it be then before there is no one living
who has seen or heard of Germans I

220. What is demanded of you is not much. You are
only bidden to undertake to pull yourselves together for
a short time, and to think over that which lies immediately
and openly before your eyes. On that alone you are to
form a definite opinion, to remain true to it, and utter
and express it in your own immediate surroundings.
It is an assumption, it is our sure conviction, that the
result of this thinking will prove to be the same with all
of you, and that, if only you really think and do not go on
in the old heedlessness, you will think alike ; that, if
only you put on the spirit and do not remain on the level
of mere vegetable existence, unity and concord of spirit
will come of itself. But, once that has come about,
everything else that we need will be added to us without
our seeking.

Now, this effort of thought is in fact demanded of each
one of you, who is still capable of thinking for himself
about a thing that lies plainly before his eyes. You have
time for it ; there is no question of the present moment
bewildering you or taking you by surprise ; the documents
recording the negotiations conducted with you still lie

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before your eyes. Do not lay them aside until you have
made up your minds. Do not, O, do not allow yourselves ^
to relax by trusting in others or in anything whatcvcri^
that lies outside yourselves, nor yet by the foolish wisdom t

of the time, which holds that the ages make themselves, ^

without any human aid, by means of some unknown force. . ^

These addresses have not grown weary of impressing upon »

you that nothing whatever can help you except yourselves ;
and they find it necessary to repeat it up to the last ,

moment. It may be that rain and dew and fruitful ^

or unfruitful seasons are made by a force unknown to us f *

and not in our power ; but all human relationships, the ^« '

whole special province of man, are made only by men
themselves and by absolutely no power outside them. 1 ',

Only when they are all equally blind and ignorant do
they fall victims to this hidden power ; but it rests with 1

them not to be blind and ignorant. It is true that
the degree of evil, boiit greater or less, which will befall ■ v

us may depend partly on that unknown power; but it
will depend very specially on the understanding and good-
will of those to whom we are subjected. But whether
it will ever go well with us again depends entirely on
ourselves ; and it is certain that no well-being whatever .
will come to us again unless we procure it for ourselves,
and especially unless each one of us, in his own way,
acts and works as if he were alone, and as if upon him
alone depended the salvation of generations to come.

221. This is what you have to do. These addresses ' ^

solemnly appeal to you to do it without delay.

To you, young men, they solemnly appeal. I, who
have long ceased to belong to your ranks, am of the
opinion, which I have expressed in these addresses, that
you are even more capable than others of any thought 1 ^^

that lies outside the common round, and more susceptible «

, ^^

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to all that is good and vigorous, because your age lies
^ nearer to the years of childlike innocence and of nature.
Quite otherwise is this trait in you regarded by the majority
of the older world. They accuse you of arrogance, of
hasty and presumptuous judgment exceeding your powers,
of always thinking yourselves in the right, of a mania for
innovation. Yet they only smile good-humouredly at
these failings of yours. All this, they think, is founded
solely on your lack of knowledge of the world — ^that is to
say, of the general state of human corruption ; for they have
no eyes for anything else in the world. You have courage
now, they think, only because you hope to find helpers of
like mind, and do not know the grim and stiflf-necked
resistance which will be oflfered to your plans for the
better. Just wait a little while, they say ; when once the
youthful fire of your imagination has died away, when you
have come to learn the general state of selfishness, sloth-
fulness, and dislike for work, when you yourselves have
once properly tasted the sweetness of going on in an accus-
tomed groove, then the desire and the will to be better
and cleverer than all the rest will depart from you. This
good hope which they have of you is not based on thin
air ; they have found it confirmed in their own person.
They must confess that in the days of their foolish youth
they dreamed of improving the world, just as you do
now ; nevertheless, as they grew more mature they became
as tame and peaceful as you see them at present. I
believe them ; I have myself, even in my own not very
long experience, seen young men, who at first aroused
other hopes, none the less at a later stage fully come up to
the well-meaning expectations of this age of maturity.
Do this no longer, young men ; for if you do, how can a
better generation ever begin ? The glow of youth will,
it is true, fall from you, and the flame of your imagina-

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tive power will cease to find nourishment in itself ; but

seize this flame and concentrate it by clear thinkings

make the art of such thinking your very own and you will

have added unto you the finest equipment of man^

which is character.- In and by that clear thinking main- K

tain the source of the eternal bloom of youth ; however \ *

much your body may grow old or your knees tremble^ <

your mind will re-create itself in ever-renewed freshness^

and your character will stand fast and upright. Embrace i>

at once the opportunity that here presents itself to you ;

think clearly over the subject that is proflfered to you for

reflection ; the clearness that has dawned for you on

this one point will gradually spread itself over all the

others too. ' \ \

222. These addresses appeal solemnly to you, old men.
You have just heard what people think of you ; ^cy say >

it to your face, and I, the speaker, frankly add thereto for
myself that, with regard to the great majority among
you, apart from the exceptions which are undoubtedly \:

not rare and which are all the more worthy of honour, , /;

what people say is entirely justified. Go through the ^

history of the last two or three decades ; everyone except ^

you yourselves is agreed (and even among yourselves
each one is agreed except as regards the special branch ^

with which he himself is concerned) that, always apart *'

from the exceptions and with reference only to the majority,
in every branch, in science as well as in the aflfairs of life, \, ^^

more inefficiency and selfishness was found among the
older men than anywhere else. The whole contemporary >

world looked on and saw how every man that wished for
a better and more perfect state of things had to fight, not
only against his own lack of clearness and his other i /

environment — ^his greatest fight was against you; the ' f

world saw that you had firmly resolved that nothing must {^


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T i

J '

come to the front which you had not known about or
done, that you regarded every stirring of thought as an
insult to your intelligence, and that you left no power
unused by which you might become the victors in this
fight against the better, as indeed you were generally
the victors. Thus, you were the force which held up
all the improvements which kindly nature oflfered to us
from her ever-youthful lap, until you were gathered to
the dust (dust that you were already !), and the younger
generation in the war with you had become like you and
took over your old way of administration. You only
need to act now as you have hitherto acted in regard to
all proposals for improvement ; you only need to put
higher than the common weal your vanity in regarding
it as a point of honour that there shall be nothing under
heaven that you have not already discovered ; then, by
this last fight you will be spared any further fighting ;
no improvement will take place, but deterioration will
follow on deterioration, so that you wall still have many
an occasion to rejoice,

I do not want you to think that I despise old age as
such, or run it down. If only the source of original life
and of its continued movement has by means of freedom
been taken up into life, clearness grows, and power with
it, so long as life lasts. Such a life becomes better as it
is lived, the clay of its earthly origin falling away more and
more ; it ennobles itself and reaches upwards towards
eternal life and blossoms out to meet it. In such a life
experience does not reconcile itself to evil, but only
makes clearer the means, and brings more skill in the art,
of fighting evil triumphantly. For the deterioration due
to increasing age, the times we live in are solely to blame ;
such deterioration must be the result wherever society
is very corrupt. It is not nature that corrupts us ; nature.

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creates^us in innocence ; society corrupts us. He who once

surrenders himself to its influence must in the nature ^

of things become worse and worse, the longer he it f

exposed to this influence. It would be worth while J^

to examine from this point of view the history of other

ages that have been very corrupt, and to see, for example,

whether under the government of the Roman emperors

what was bad did not become worse and worse with

increasing age.

So, among you old men and men of experience it it
first to those who form the exception that these addresses
solemnly appeal. Support, strengthen, and give counsel
in this matter to the younger generation who reverently
direct their gaze towards you. But to you others who ; '

form the majority the solemn appeal of these addresses
is this : you are not asked to help, but just for this onc^^
do not interfere ; do not put yourselves in the way, as
you have always done hitherto, with your wisdom and ;'

your thousand grave objections. This matter, like every S

other matter of reason in the world, has not a thousand
aspects, but only one ; and that is one of the thousand
things you do not know. If your wisdom could bring
salvation, it would have saved us before this, for it is you ^."^

who have advised us hitherto. That is now, like every* /

thing else, in vain, and shall not be brought up against
you any more. But learn at long last to know yourselves, ^

and be silent. •

223. These addresses appeal solemnly to you, men of ^ ' ^

business. With few exceptions you have hitherto been
at heart hostile to abstract thought, and to every science ^

that wished to be something for its own sake, although you i <

put on an air of superiority and treated all that sort of < f

thing with contempt. You kept the men who pursued * 'i

such subjects, and the proposals they made, as far from ,

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you as you possibly could ; to be called lunatics, or
advised to betake themselves to a madhouse, was the
thanks they could most generally reckon on getting from
you. They for their part did not dare to express them-
selves about you with the same frankness, because they
were dependent on you ; but, in their inmost hearts, their
true opinion of you was this, that with few exceptions

v^ou are shallow babblers and puflfed-up braggarts, half-
educated men who merely ran through a course at school,
blind men who have to feel their way and creep along in
the old groove, and who neither want nor are capable of
anything else. By your actions convict them of lying.
For this purpose seize the opportunity now oflfered to
you ; lay aside your contempt of profound thought and
science ; let yourselves be told what you do not know,
then listen and learn ; otherwise your accusers will carry
their point.

224. These addresses appeal solemnly to you, thinkers,

-scholars, and men of letters, to such of you as are still
worthy of the name. The reproach that men of aflfairs
brought against you was in a certain sense not unjust.
Often you went on in the sphere of pure thought too
unconcernedly, without troubling yourselves about the

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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 21 of 22)