Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

. (page 8 of 22)
Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 8 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

manifestations which, according to this deduction, ought

. ' !' Digitized by V:iOOQIC


to exist, are actually met with in experience is a question
which I shall leave entirely to you and to any observer for
decision. As regards the German especially, I shall
indeed prove at the proper time that he has in fact revealed
himself to be what our deduction shows he was bound
to be. But, as regards Teutons in other countries, I
shall have no objection if one of them, with a real under-
standing of the true nature of our present discussion,
is subsequently successful in proving that his compatriots
have been just what the Germans have been, and is able
to show that they are entirely free from the opposite
characteristics. In general, our description even of
these opposite characteristics will not dwell on what is
harsh and disadvantageous, for such a method makes
victory more easy than honourable, but will merely
point out what are the inevitable consequences, and will
do this with as much consideration as is consistent with
the truth.

59. The first consequence of that fundamental differ*
ence, I said, was this : ''among the people with a living
language mental culture^ influences life, whereas among a
people of the opposite kind mental culture and life go
their separate ways. It will be useful first of all to explain^
more fully the meaning of this statement. First of all,
when we speak here of life and of the influence exerted
upon it by mental culture, we must be understood to mean
primitive life in its flow from the source of all spiritual
life, from God, the development of human relationships
according to their archetype, and, therefore, the creation
of a new life such as has never hitherto existed. We are
by no means discussing the mere preservation from decay
of those relationships in their present stage. Stijl less
have we in mind the assistance of individual members
who have fallen behind in the general development.

Digitized by V:iOOQIC

V •'•


-■ ,1

- 1


Next) when we speak of mejiraLciilliire we are to under- \
stand thereby, first of all, philosophy, for it is philosophy \
which scientifically comprefi^ds the eternal archetype j
of all spiritual life. We must designate it by the foreign '
' ( ; name, as the Germans have shown themselves unwilling

. .to adopt the German name ^ that was recently suggested.
For this science, and for all science based upon it, the claim
is now made that it influences the life of a people who have
a living language. But, in apparent contrast to this
' -' ' \ assertion, it has often been said, and by some among

;? I / ourselves, that philosophy, science, the fine arts, etc.,

/ , ^ are ends in themselves and not handmaids of life, and that

• ^ ' it is degrading them to esteem them according to their

\ : • utility in the service of life. Here we must define these

expressions more closely and guard against any misinter-
pretation. They are true in the following double but
limited sense ; first, that it is not the duty of science or
I art, as some have thought, to be useful at what may be

I called a lower stage of life, e.g.^ temporal or sensuous life,

or for everyday edification ; then, that an individual,
in consequence of his personal seclusion from a spiritual
world regarded as a whole, may be entirely absorbed in
these special branches of the universal divine life vnthout
needing a stimulus from outside them, and may find in
them complete satisfaction. But they are in no wise
true in the strict sense, for it is just as impossible that
there should be more than one end in itself as that there
should be more than one Absolute. The sole end in
itself, apart from which there can be no other, is spiritual
life. Now this expresses itself in part and appears as an
eternal stream, with itself as source — ^that is, as eternal
activity. This activity eternally receives its pattern
from science^ and its ability to form itself according to
^ [Wissenschaftslehre, ia, Theoij of ideiice.]

Digitized by V:iOOQIC



-.^ \-



^ K





thi$ pattern from art, and in so far it might appear that
science and art exist as means to an end^ which is active
life. But in this form of activity life itself is never com-
pleted and made absolute as a unity, but goes on into the
infinite. Now» if life is to exist as such an absolute unity^
it must be in another form. This form is that of pure
thought, which produces the religious insight described
in the third address, a form which, as absolute unity, b
utterly incompatible with infinity of action and which
can never be completely expressed in actioS Hence both
4)f them, thought as well as activity, are forms incompat*
ible only in the world of appearance, but in the world
beyond appearance they are both equally one and the
same absolute life. One cannot say that thought exists>
and exists as it does, for the sake of activity, or vice versa ;
one must say that both must simply exist, since life must
be a completed whole in the phenomenal world, just as
it is in the noumenal. Within this sphere, therefore,
and according to this view, it is not nearly enough to say
that science exerts an influence on life; science itself
is life perpetual in itself. Or, to connect this with a
well-known expression, one sometimes hears the question
put : What is the use of all knowledge, if one does not
act in accordance with it ? This remark implies that
loj^owledge is regarded as a means to action, and the
latter as the real end. One could put the question
the other way round and ask : How can we possibly
act well without knowing what the Good is ? This
way of expressing it would regard knowledge as con - ^
ditioning action. ' But both expressions are one-sided,
and the truth is that both, knowledge as well as
action, are; in the same way inseparable elements of
rational life/
60. But science is life perpetual in itself, as we have

Digitized by V:iOOQIC

• i.



just expressed it, only when thought is the real mind and
disposition of the one who thinks, in such a way that,
without special effort and even without being clearly
i, conscious of it, he views and judges everything else that

he thinks, views, and judges according to that fundamental
V| thought, and, if the latter exerts an influence on action,

I just as inevitably acts according to it. But thought is

■^ j in no wise life and disposition when it is thought only as

"^ • the thought of a life that is strange or foreign, however

*' clearly and completely it may be comprehended as a

, J , ^ thought that has a mere possibility of existence in this

> «« way, and however clearly one might think, as perhaps

someone could think, in this fashion. v{n this latter case, .
i between our thinking at second-hand and our real think-
ing there lies a wide field of chance and freedom — z
I freedom that we feel no desire to use ; and so this think-
j ing at second-hand remains apart from us ; it is a merely
! possible thinking, one made free from us and always freely
to be repeated. . In the former case thought has by itself
directly taken hold of our self, and made it into itself ;
; and through this reality of thought for us, arising in this
' way, we obtain insight into its necessity. As we have just
I said, no freedom can forcibly bring about the btter con-
1 sequence, which must be produced of itself, and thought
: itself must take hold of us and form us according to itself.
61. Now this living effectiveness of thought is very
much furthered aind, indeed; where the thinking is of the
proper depth and strength, even made inevitable, by think-
ing and designating in a living language. The symbol
in such a language is itself directly living and sensuous ;
it re-presents all real life and so takes hold of and exerts
an influence on life. To the possessor of such a language
spirit speaks directly and reveals itself as man does to man.
^ But the symbol of a dead language does not stimulate

.! • " , • . ...Google


?ny^b^g ^irrrtly ; in nr jfr to enter the livingJtrcam_of
such a language^ one must first recapitulate knowledge
acquired by the study (^^istory from a world thatJbas
died, and' transpoFt one^s self into aa alien^. mode of
thought/y How superabundant must be the impulse of
one's own thinking, if it does not grow weary in this long
and wide field of history and in the end modestly content
itself with the region of history. If the thinking of the /
possessor of a living language does not become alive, he
may rightly be accused of not having thought at all and
of having merely indulged in reverie. IThe possessor of
a dead language, however, cannot in a similar case be
similarly accused without hesitation; it may be that
he has '* thought " after his own fashion, t .^., carefully
developed the conceptions deposited in his language.
Only he has not done that which, if he succeeded in
doing it, would be accounted a miracle^

Incidentally it is evident that the impulse to thinking,
in the case of a people with a dead language, vidll be most
powerful and produce the greatest apparent results in
the beginning, when the language has not yet become
clear enough to everyone. It is also evident that, as
soon as the language becomes clearer and more definite,
this impulse to thinking will tend more and more to die
away in the chains of the language. It is further evident
that in the end the philosophy of a people of this kind
will consciously resign itself to the fact that it is only an
explanation of the dictionary, or, as un-German spirits
among us have expressed it in a more high-sounding
fashion, a metacritic of language ; and, finally, that suchf
a people will acknowledge some mediocre didactic poem\
in comedy form on the subject of hypocrisy to be its 1
greatest philosophical work.^

^ [Fichtc leemi Co refer here to Moli^e'i Tartuffif.]

Digitized by V:iOOQIC






62. In this way, I say, spiritual culture — ^and here
especially thinking in a primitive language is meant —
does not exert an influence on, life ; it is itself the life
of him who thinks in this fashion. Nevertheless it
necessarily strives^ from the life that thinks in this way,
i to influence other life outside it, and so to influence the

j life of all about it and to form this life in accordance with

I , itself. For, just becaubC that kind of thinking is life, it

, ' is felt by its possessor with mward pleasure in its vitalizing,

\\ I transfiguring, and liberating power, ^^ut everyone to

[j : whose inmost being happiness has been revealed is bound

.• V to wish that everyone else may experience the same bliss ;

he is thus driven, and must work, to the end that the
stream from which he has drawn his own well-being may
spread itself over others tooT^ It is different with him who
has merely apprehended the possibility of second-hand
thinking. Just as its substance yields him neither weal nor
woe, but merely occupies his leisure agreeably and enter-
tainingly, so it is impossible for him to believe that it can
bring weal or woe to anyone else. In the end it is to
him a matter of indifference on what subject anyone
exercises his ingenuity or with what he occupies his
hours of leisure.
[ 63. Of the means of introducing into the lives of all
! the thought that has begun in the life of the individual,
v[ the highest and best is poctiy ; hence this is the second
[main branch of the spiritual culture of a people. The
thinker designates his thought in language, and this, as
we have said above, cannot be done except by images
of sense and, moreover, by an act of creation extending
beyond the previous range of sensuous imagery. In ^.
doing this the thinker is himself a poet ; if he is not a
poet, language will fail him when his first thought comes, ^
' and, when he attempts the second, thought itself will

I *

jU ■ Digitized by Google



depart from him. An extension and amplification of
the language's range of sensuous imagery having thus
been begun by the thinker, to send it in flood through
the whole field of sensuous images, so that every image
may receive its appropriate share of the new spiritual
ennoblement and so that the whole of life, down to its
deepest depths of sense, may appear steeped in the new
ray of light, may be well-pleasing, and may unwittingly
give the illusion of ennobling itself — to do this is the
work of true poetry. -Only a living language can have
such poetry, for only in such a language can the range of
sensuous imagery be extended by creative thought, and
only in it does what has already been created remain
alive and open to the influence of kindred lifeT^ Such a
language has within itself the power of infinite poetry,
ever refreshing and renewing its youth, for every stirring
of living thought in it opens up a new vein of poetic
enthusiasm. To such a language, therefore, poetry is
the highest and best means of flooding the, life of all with
the spiritual culture that has been attained.- It is quite
impossible for a dead language to have poetry in this
higher sense, for none of the conditions necessary to
poetry exist in it. Such a language can have, how**
ever, though only for a limited period, a substitute
for poetry in the following way. The outpourings of/
the art of poetry in the original language will attract
attention. The new people, indeed, cannot go on
making poetry in the path that has been begun, for this
is foreign to its life, but it can introduce its own life and
its new circumstances into the sphere of sensuous imagery
and poetry in which the preceding age expressed its own
life ; it can, for example, dress up its knights as heroes,
and vice versa, and make the ancient gods exchange
raiment with the new ones. It is precisely th^s placing

Digitized by V:iOOQIC


. t





of unfamiliar vesture upon the commonplace that gives
it a charm aldn to that produced by idealization, and the
result will be quite pleasing figures. But the range of
sensuous and poetical imagery in the original language
on the one hand, and the new conditions of life on the
other, are finite and limited quantities. At some point
their mutual penetration is completed ; and when that
point is reached the people celebrates its golden age and
the source of its poetry runs dry. ^Somewhere or other
there must be a highest point in the adaptation of fixed
]l 1 words to fixed ideas, and of fixed imagery to fixed con-

/ ^ ^ ditions of life. When this point has been reached this

people must do one of two things. It can either repeat
its most successful masterpieces in a different form, so
that they look as if they were something new, although
they are in fact nothing but the old familiar things^

^Or else^ if it is determined to achieve something entirely

new, it can seek refuge in the unbecoming and the

unseemly* In this case their poetic art will mix together

^'the ugly and the beautiful and have recourse tocarica-

^^ture and humour, while their prose will be compelled to
confuse ideas and to jumble virtue and vice together.
This they must do if they seek new forms of expression.
^y 64. When mental culture and life thus go their own
separate ways in a nation, the natural consequence is
that those classes who have no access to mental culture, '
and who do not even receive the results of it as they
would in a living nation, are placed at a disadvantage
as compared with the educated classes and are regarded,
so to speak, as a different species of humanity, unequal
to them in mental power from the beginning and by
the mere fact of birtK Another consequence is that
the educated classes have no truly loving sympathy with
them and are not impelled to give them thorough aid,

Digitized by V:iOOQIC


for they believe that their original inequality makes
them quite incapable of being aided. It follows also that
the educated classes are tempted rather to make used
them as they are and to let them be so used. Although
even this consequence of the death of the language cao
be mitigated in the first years of the new nation by t
humanitarian religion and by the lack of special skill
among the higher classes, yet, as time goes on, this
despising of the people will become more and more
unconcealed and cruel. TTlut is why the- e du c at ed
classes assume superiority and give themselves airs ; and
there is in addition a special reason closely connected,
with it which, as it has had a yciy. extensixfijnfluence
even on the Germans, must be mentioned, here.^ It
arises from the fact that in the beginning the Romans ? '
called themselves barbarians and their own language
barbarous, as contrasted with the Greeks. In this they
very ingenuously repeated what the Greeks had said
about them. Afterwards the Romans handed on the
description they had taken upon themselves, and found
among the Teutons the same unquestioning simplicity
as they themselves had shown towards the Greeks.
I The Teutons believed that the only possible way to gcfj-
rid of barbarism was to become Romans. The immi-
grants to what was formerly Roman soil became as Roman
as they possibly could. But in their imagination the^
term " barbarous " soon acquired the secondary meaning
of ^^ common, plebeian, and loutish," and in this way
" Roman," on the contrary, became synonymous with«^
" distinguished." This way of looking at it affected
the Teutonic languages in general and in particular ;
in general, since, when measures were taken deliberately
and consciously to mould the language, they were directed
towards throwing out .the Teutonic roots and forming

Digitized by V:iOOQIC




Ithe words fromLatin roots, and thus creating the Romance

(language as the language of the court and of the educated

classes. But the particular result is that, whenever two

j, , ) words have the same meaning, (ithe one from a Teutonic

>' ' I root almost without exception denotes what is base and

x^l ignoble, and the one £rom.the.Latia root what is nobler

I and more distinguishedir^

> I ' 65. frh h endem ic disease of the whole Teutonic race,

^ . , ., * as it might be called^ attacks the German in the mother-

\\ \ country too, if he is not armed against it by a high

'1 I earnestness. > Even in our ears it is easy for Latin to sound

*^ / .« distinguished, even to our eyes Roman customs appear

nobler and everything German on the contrary vulgar ;
' * . and as we were not so fortunate as to acquire all this

. I . , at first-hand, we take much pleasure in receiving it at

* \ ' second-hand through the medium of the neo-Latin

^^ . ! ^ nations.^ So long as we are German we appear to our-

^ [Fichte adds this note here': In our opinion the decision at to the
.' ' . greater or less euphony of a language should not be based upon the direct

impression, which depends on so many matters of chance. Even a judg-
ment of this kind should be founded on definite principles. The merit of a
language in this respect should undoubtedly be, first of all, that it exhausts
and comprehensively presents the possibilities of the human organs of
speech, and, secondly, that it combines the separate sounds in a natural and
convenient unity. Hence it follows that nations who only half develop
their organs of speech, and that in a one-sided fashion, who avoid certain
soundsor combinations under the preteztof difficulty or cacophony, and who
esteem euphonious only what they are accustomed tp hear and can them-
selves pronounce— such nations have no say in an investigation of this kind.

This is not the place to deliver judgment according to those higher
principles on the German language in this respect. Ladn itself, the
parent language, is pronounced by each neo-European nation in its own
way, and it would not be easy to restore its true pronunciation. There
remains, therefore, only this question, whether the German language
when compared with neo-Latin languages sounds so bad, hard, and harsh
as some are inclined to thinL

Until this question is thoroughly decided, we may meanwhile at least
explain how it happens that it does seem so to foreigners, and to Germans
too, even when they are unprejudiced and free from preferences or hate.

Digitized by V:iOOQIC


selves men like any others ; when half or more than half
our vocabulary is non-German, and when we adopt
conspicuous customs and wear conspicuous clothes which
seem to come from foreign parts, then we fancy ourselves
distinguished. But the summit of our triumph is re2iched
when we are no longer taken for Germans, but actually for V
Spaniards or Englishmen, whichever of the two happens to
be the more fashionable at the moment. We are right.
Naturalness on the. .Geunaii side, arbitrariness and
artificiality on the foreign side^ are the fundamental /

I differences. If we keep to the former we are just like all
our fellow-Germans, who understand us and accept,
us as their equals; only when we seek refuge in the
latter do we become incomprehensible to our fellows,

, who take us to be of a different nature. /This unnatural-
ness comes of itself into the life of foreign countries,
because their life deviated from nature originally and
in a matter of the first importance?^ But we Germans
must first seek it out and accustom ourselves to the belief
that something is beautiful, proper, and convenient,
which does not naturally appear so to us. The main -
reason for all this in the case of the German is his belief
in the greater distinction of romanized countries, together^
with his craving to be just as distinguished and arti-
ficially to create in Germany too that gulf between the

A people as yet uncultivated, with a very lively power of imagination, and at
the same time childlike in mind and free from national vanity (the Teutons
seem to have had all these qualities) is attracted by what is far away, and
likes to make remote countries and distant islands the habitation for the
objecu of itt desires and the glories of which it dreams. Such a people
develops a sense of romance (the word explains itself and no more suitable
one could be invented). Sounds and tones from those regions touch this
sense and awaken its whole world of wonden ; hence they are pleasing.

This may be the reason why our countrymen who emigrated gave up their
own language for a foreign one so easily, and also why we, thdr Hndred
so very far removed, find even now such wondrous pleasure in these tones.]

Digitized by V3OOQ IC



v^l •



.^ i

' ■} ■ •

I -

i ^' : i:

upper classes and the people, which came about naturally
in foreign countries. I shall content myself with having
indicated the main source of this love of foreign ways
which is to be found among Germans ; on another occa-
sion I shall show how widespread its effects have been,
and how all the evils which have now brought us to ruin
are of foreign origin. ^Of course it was only when united
with German earnestness and influence on life that such
evils were bound to bring destruction in their train*!'

^. 66. In addition to these two manifestations resulting

( from the fundamental difference — firstly, that mental
culture either does or does not influence life, and, secondly,
that between the educated classes and the people a dividing
wall either does or does not exist — I cited the following
manifestation, that the people with a living language
will possess diligence and earnestness and take pains in
all things, whereas the people with a dead language will
rather look upon mental activity as an ingenious game,

' and will be easy-going and guided by its happy nature.

"This circumstance is a natural result of what has been
said above. ' Among the people with a living language
investigation proceeds from a vital need, which is thereby
to be satisfied ; hence, investigation receives all the com-
pelling impulses which life has in itself. But among the
people with a dead language investigation seeks nothing
more than to pass away the time in a manner that is

1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 8 of 22)