Johann Gottlieb Fichte.

Addresses to the German nation online

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pleasant and in keeping with the sense of the beautiful,
and it has attained its object completely when it has done
this. With foreigners the latter course is almost inevitable,
but when a German boasts about his genius and his happy
nature he displays a love of foreign ways which is unworthy
of him and which, like every imitation of foreign ways,
arises from the craving to be distinguished. It is true

[that nothing excellent will be produced in any nation

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inJiie wQiidjyithoi.iJLa_£!n^^ impulse in man which,
as something supersensuous, is rightly calTcJ Genius, to •
^ive it the foreign name. But this impulse in itselLonl/
stimulates th e powc r^ imagination, and brings forth in
it figures that hover above the ground but «•€ Tlcvcr
completely^ Refined. To^Brihg these down completed
tolhe groun^ToTactual life and to fix them firmly therein,
this requires thought, diligent, deliberate, and in accord-
ance with a definite principle. Geniu^ delivers to
diligence the stuff to be worked upon, aiidthe latter with-v^
out the former would have to work upon either what had
been worked upon already or else upon nothing at alL
But dili^enc^ brings this stuff, which without it would
remain an empty game, into life ; and so it is only when
united that the two can achieve anything ; divided thqr can
do nothing. | Moreover, in a people with a dead language
jno truly creative genius can express itself, because th^
[lack the primitive power of designation ; they can only
j develop what has already been begun and convey it into
[the whole existing and completed system of designation.]
67. When we consider the question of taking greater
pains, it is natural that this can be done by the people
with the living language. A living language can stand
on a higher level of culture in comparison with another,
but it can never in itself attain that perfection of develop*
ment which a dead language quite easily attains. In
the latter the connotation of words is fixed, and the
possibilities of suitable combinations will also gradually
become exhausted. Hence, he who wishes to speak this
language must speak it just as it is ; but, after he has once
learnt to do this, the language speaks itself in his mouth
and thinks and imagines for him. But in a living lan-
guage, if only life in it is really lived, the words and their
meanings increase and change continually, and for that

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very reason new combinations become possible ; and the
knguagCy which never is, but eternally is becoming, does
not speak i tself, tut he- wha wishes <to use it must speak
it himself in his own fashion and creatively for his own
needs. The latter undoubtedly demands far more
d iligenc e and practice than the former. Similarly, the
investigations of a people with a living language go down,
as we have already said, to the root where ideas stream
forth from spiritual nature itself ; whereas the investiga-
tions of a people with a dead language only seek to pene-
trate a foreign idea and to make themselves comprehen-
sible. .^Hence, the investigations of the latter are in fact
only historical and expository, but those of the former
are truly philosophicalT' It is quite plain, too, that
an investigation of the latter kind may be completed
sooner and more easily than one of the former.

So we may say that genius in foreign lands will strew
with flowers the well-trodden military roads of antiquity,
and weave a becoming robe for that wisdom of life which
it will easily take for philosophy. The German spirit,
on the other hand, will open up new shafts and bring
the light of day into their abysses, and hurl up rocky
masses of thoughts, out of which ages to come will build
their dwellingsr^The foreign genius will be a delightful
sylph, which hovers in graceful flight above the flowers
that have sprung of themselves from its soil, settles on
them without causing them to bend, and drinks up their
refreshing dew. Or we may call it a bee, which with
busy art gathers the honey from the same flowers and
deposits it with charming tidiness in cells of regular
construction. But the German spirit is an eagle, whose
mighty body thrusts itsdf on high and soars on strong
and weS-pfactised wing into the empyrean, that it may
rise nearer to the sun whereon it delights to gaze.

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, 68. Now let us sum up in one main point of view all
that has hitherto been said. In general, when we con-
sider the history of civilization in a race of men which
is split up in history into an age of antiquity and a new
world, we shall find on the whole that the function of
these two main branches in the^ original development of
this new world is as follows. 'That part of the vigorous
nation which has gone abroad and adopted the language
of antiquity thereby acquires a much closer relation-
ship to antiquity./. At the beginning it will be far easier
for this part of the nation to grasp the language of anti-
quity in its first and unchanged form, to penetrate the
memorials of its culture, and to bring into them enough
fresh life to enable them to be adapted to the new life
that has arisen. In short, it is from them that the study
of classical antiquity has taken its way over modern
Europe. In its enthusiasm for the unsolved problems of
antiquity it will continue to work at them; but, of course,
only as one works at a problem that has been set, not by
the needs of life, but by mere curiosity. It will take them
lightly and not whole-heartedly, grasping them merely
with the power of imagination, and solely in this medium
giving them, as it were, an airy body. The very wealth,
of material bequeathed by antiquity, and the ease with
which the work can be carried on in this fashion, will
enable them to bring an abundance of such images into
the field of vision of the modem world. Now, when
these images of the ancient world in their new form
reach that part of the original stock which, by its reten-
tion of the language, has remained in the stream of original
culture, they will arouse the attention of the people and
stimulate them to activity on their own part; diough,
perhaps, these images, if they had remained in the old
form, would have passed before them unheeded and

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unperceived. But as soon as they have really grasped
them and not, as it were, merely passed them on from
hand to hand, they will grasp them as their nature
impels them to do, not merely as knowledge of a foreign
life, but as an element of their own life. So they will
not only derive them from the life of the new world,
but also bring them into it again, incarnating the hitherto
merely airy figures in solid bodies that will endure in
real life.

These figures, thus transformed in a way that would
never have been possible to foreign countries, the latter
now receive from them again. Through this channel
alone is a development of the human race possible on the
path of antiquity, a union of the two main portions, and
a regular progress of human evolution, ^n this new order
of things the mother-country will not actually invent
anything ; but, in the smallest as in the greatest matters,
it will always have to acknowledge that Jt has been
stimulated by some hint from abroad. The foreign
countries themselves were in their turn stimulated by
the ancients, but the mother-country will take earnestly,
and bring into life, what other countries have only super-
ficially and hastily sketched out. As we have already
said, this is not the place to illustrate this relationship by
striking and far-reaching examples. This we reserve for
our next address.

69. In this way both parts of the joint nation remained
one, and only in this simultaneous separation and unity do
they form a graft on the stem of the culture of antiquity,
which otherwise would have been broken off by the new
age, and so humanity would have begun again from the
beginning. The two parts have these vocations laid
upon them, different at the starting-point but coming
together at the goal ; each part must recognize its own

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vocation and that of the other, and in accordance there-
with each part must make use of the other, fit is especi-
ally necessary for each part to consent to assist the other
and to leave its characteristic quality untouched, if good
progress is to be made in the general and complete culture
of the wholes The recognition of this ought to come
first from the mother-country, which has been endowed
in the first place with the sense of profundity. HSut if -
ever foreign countries, in their blindness to this relation- /
ship, should be so far carried away by what appears on \
the surface as to attempt to deprive their mother-country
of its independence and so to destroy and absorb it,
they would thereby, if their attempt succeeded, sever* for I
themselves the_last vein connecting_jthem with nature /
and with life, and fall defenceless into spiritual death, '
which indeed, apart from this, has been revealing itself
to be their true nature more and more clearly as time
has gone on. ^ Then the hitherto continuous stream of
the development of our race would be in fact at an end ;
barbarism would be bound to begin again and to go on
without hope of deliverance, until we were all living in
caves again like wild beasts and, like them, devouring
one another. That this is really so.aad-inust tttevitabty-
follow, only the German can see, of course, and only he
shall see it. To the foreigner, who, since he knpws no
foreign culture, has unlimited scope to admire himself
in his own, it must and it may always appear preposterous
blasphemy proceeding from ill-educated ignorance.

/"''^Non-German countries are the earth, from which
fruitful vapours detach themselves and arise to the clouds,
and by which even now the old gods condemned to
Tartarus keep in touch with the sphere of life. The

V mother-country is the eternal sky enveloping the-xarth,
the sky in which the light vapours are condensed to clouds

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which, impregnated by the lightning flash of the Thunderer
from the other world, descend in the form of fertilizing
rain, uniting sky and earth and causing the gifts whose
home is in the sky to germinate in the lap of earth.
Do new Titans once more want to take heaven by storm i
It will not be heaven for them, for they are earth-born,
and the very sight and influence of heaven will be taken
\iTom them. Only their earth will remain to them, a cold,
gloomy, and barren habitation. But, says a Roman poet,
what could a Typhosus do, or the mighty Mimas, or
Porphyrion with his threats, or Enceladus, the rash
hurler of uprooted tree-trunks, if they flung themselves
against the resounding shield of Pallas ? It is this very
shield that will undoubtedly cover us too, if we under-
stand how to betake ourselves to its protection. S

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70. In our last address we stated what would be the
chief differences between a people that has developed in
its original language. and a people that has adopted t
foreign one. We said at the time that, so far as fordgn
countries '^were concerned, we would leave it to each
observer's own judgment to decide whether those mani-
festations had in fact occurred which, according to our
assertions, were bound to occur. But with regard to the
Germans we undertook to prove that they had in fact
turned out to be what, according to our assertions, a
people with a primitive language was bound to be.
To-day we proceed to the fulfilment of our promise;
ajxd we prove our assertions, first of all, by the latest^
great and, in a certain sense, completed achievement of
the German people, an achievement of world-wide
importance — ^the reformation of the Church^ ^

71. Christianity, which originated in Asia, and in the J
days of its corruption became more Asiatic than ever,
preaching only silent resignation and blind faith, was
something strange and foreign even to the Romans.
They never really laid hold of and assimilated it, and
their nature was divided by it into two halves that did
not fit each other; nevertheless, the foreign part was
joined on by means of their inherited and melancholy

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superstition. Ijn the immigrant Teutons this religion
found disciples who had no previous intellectual educa-
tion to hinder its acceptance, but also no hereditary

^superstition favourable to it. Hence, it was presented to
them as one of the things that formed part of the equip-

^ ment of a Roman, which is what they wanted to become ;
but it had no special influence on their life. These
Christian educators would obviously not let their new
converts know any more than suited their purpose
about the ancient culture of Rome or its language, the
key to its culture ; and here, too, we have a reason for the

"^^decay and death of the Latin language in their mouth.
When later the untouched and genuine works of the old
culture fell into the hands of these peoples, and when the
impulse to think and understand for themselves was
thereby stirred into action, then, partly because this
impulse was new and fresh to them, and partly because
they had no inherited terror of the gods to act as a
counterpoise, the contradiction between blind faith and
the strange things that in course of time had become its
objects was bound to strike them far more sharply than it
had struck the Romans themselves when Christianity first
came to them. The perception of an utter contradic-
tion in what one has hitherto faithfully believed excites

« laughter.. Those who had solved the riddle laughed and
mocked ; and even the priests, who had also solved it,
laughed with the rest ; they could do so in safety, because
only very few people had access to the classical culture
which broke the spell. Here I refer especially to Italy,
the chief seat of neo- Latin culture at that time, the other
neo-Latin races being still very far behind Italy in every

They laughed at the deception, because there was no
earnestness in them to turn bitter. Their exclusive

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possession of rare knowledge strengthened them in their ^ J
position as a distinguished and educated class, and so they
were quite willing that the great multitude, for whom
they had no feeling, should remain under the sway of the
deception and thus be more subservient to their purposes.
This state of things — a people deceived, and their betters
making use of the deception and laughing at them — ^might
have continued ; and it would probably have continued
until the end of time, if there had been none but neo-
Latins in the modern world.

Here you have a clear proof of what I said about the
continuation of ancient culture by the new, and about
the share the neo-Latins are able to have in it. The
new light proceeded from the ancients and, falling
first upon the central point of neo-Latin culture, was
there developed into nothing more than an intellectual
view of things, without taking hold of life and shaping
it differently.

72. But it was impossible for the existing state of
things to continue once this light had fallen upon a soul
whose religion was truly earnest and concerned about
life, when this soul was surrounded by a people to whom
it could easily impart its more earnest view, and when thir
people found leaders who cared. about its urgent needs*.
However low Christianity may fall, there always remains .
in it an essential part which contains truth and which is
sure to stimulate life, if only it is real and independent v
life. That part is the question : What shall we do to
be saved ? When this question fell on barren soil,
where either it remained undecided whether such a
thing as salvation was really possible, or else, even if that
was assumed, there was still no firm and decided will to/
be saved— on such soil religion from the very beginning
did not affect life and will, but remained suspended in

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''' the memory and the imagination like a faint and quivering

ij ,. shadow. So all further enlightenment concerning the

j condition of the existing religious ideas was similarly

j bound to remain without influence on life. But when,

on the other hand, that question fell upon soil that by
;^ i nature was living, where there was an earnest belief that

; salvation existed and a firm will to be saved, where the

means of salvation prescribed by the existing religion
had been employed to that intent with inward faith,
honesty, and earnestness, and where, moreover, this
very earnestness long kept from the light the quality of
Ithe prescribed means of salvation — ^when, I say, the new
light fell at last upon such a soil as this, the inevitable
/result was horror and loathing of this deception in the
I matter of the soul's salvation, and an unrest impelling
, 'them to secure salvation in another way. What appeared
^ , ! j to be a rushing towards eternal ruin could not be treated

as if it were a joke. Moreover, the individual who was
first possessed by this view of the matter could not possibly
be content with saving only his own soul, and remain
indifferent to the welfare of all other immortal souls ; for,
if he had, he would thereby have saved not even his
"^ own soul. Such was the teaching of his more profound

religion. He was bound, on the contrary, to wrestle for
all mankind with the same anxiety that he felt for his
own soul, so that the whole world might have its eyes
opened to the damnable delusion.

, 73. It was in this way that the light fell upon the soul
of the Ge rman m an^J^tttKer. Long before him very many
foreigners had seen the light and comprehended it more
clearly with the intellect. In refinement, in classical
culture, in learning, and in other things he was surpassed,
not only by foreigners, but even by many of his own nation.
He, however, was possessed by an all-powerful impulse,





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the anxiety about eternal salvation, ajid this became the
life of his life, made him always throw his life into the
scale, and gave him the power and the gifts which are
the admiration of posterity. Others during the Reforma-
tion may have had earthly aims, but they would never
have been victorious had there not been at their head a
leader inspired by the eternal. That this man, who
always saw that the salvation of all immortal souls was at
stake, fearlessly and in all earnestness went to meet all
the devils in hell, is natural and in no way a wonder.
Here we have a proof of German earnestness of souL |
It was in the nature of things, as we have said, that
Luther should turn to all men with this question, which
concerns all men and which each man must deal with for
himself. First of all he turned to the whole of his own
nation. How, then, did his people respond to thb pro-
posal ? Did they remain in their dull placidity, chained to
the ground by the cares of the world, and going on un-
disturbed in the accustomed path ? Or did this mighty
enthusiasm, such as is not manifested every day, merely
excite them to laughter ? By no means ! TTiey were
seized by the same concern for the salvation of tlieir souls ;
like fire it spread among them ; and so their eyes, too^^
were quickly opened to the fullness of light, and they were
quick to accept what was offered to them. Was this
enthusiasm merely a momentary elevation of the imagina-
tion, unable to hold its ground in daily life with its stem
struggles and dangers ? By no means ! They renounced
all, endured all tortures, and fought in bloody and in-
decisive wars, solely that, they might not again come under
the power of the accursed Papacy, but that the light of
the gospel, which alone can save, might shine upon them
and upon their children's children.^ There were renewed
among them, late in time, all the miracles that Chris-


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tianity showed forth among those who professed it when
it began. All the utterances of that period arc filled with
'XJhis universal concern for salvation. Behold in this a
proof of the characteristic quality of the German people.
By enthusiasm it can easily be raised to enthusiasm and
clearness of any kind whatsoever, and its enthusiasm

L endures for life and transforms life.

74. In earlier times and in other places reformers had
inspired masses of the people, and gathered and formed
them into communities. Yet these communities found
no firm abiding-place on the foundation of the existing
constitution, because the princes and rulers of the people
did not come over to their side. At first no more favour-

/able destiny seemed to await Luther's Reformation.

/ The wise Elector, under whose eyes it began, seemed to

I be wise rather in the foreign than in the German sense.

\He did not appear to have any special grasp of the real
question at issue, nor to attach much importance to what
seemed to him a quarrel between two orders of monks ;
at the most he was concerned merely about the good
reputation of his newly-founded University. But he
had successors who, though far less wrise than he, were
seized by the same earnest care for their salvation as
lived in their peoples, and by this likeness were fused
with them into one body for life or death, defeat or

Behold in this an illustration of the above-mentioned
characteristic of the Germans as a single body, and of
their constitution as established by nature. The great
events of national or world importance have hitherto
been brought before the people by speakers who came
forward voluntarily, and the people have taken up the
cause. Though their princes, from love of foreign ways
and the craving for brilliance and distinction, might at

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first separate themselves, as those did, from the nation
and abandon or betray it, they were afterwards easily
swept into unanimity with the nation and took pity on
their peoples. That the former has always been the case
we shall prove more clearly hereafter by further illustra-
tions ; that the latter may always continue to be the
case we can only wish with fervent yearning.
75. t)ne must confess that there was a darkness and
\ unclearness in the anxiety of that generation about the
salvation of souls, since it was a question, not merely of
changing the external mediator between God and man,
but of needing no external mediator at all and of finding
the bond of connection in one's self.J Nevertheless, it
was perhaps necessary that the religious education of
mankind should go through this intermediate state.
Luther's own honest zeal gave him more than he sought,
and carried him far beyond his own dogmatic system.
Once he had successfully overcome the first inward con-
flicts, produced by his conscientious scruples when he
boldly broke away from the whole existing faith, all hb
utterances are full of jubilation and triumph about the
freedom won for the children of God, who assuredly
no longer sought for salvation outside themselves and^
beyond the grave, but were themselves a manifestation
of the immediate feeling of salvation. In this he became
the. pattern for all generations to come, and died for us alL
j Behold in this also a characteristic of the German spirit? v
I If it but seeks, it finds more than it sought, for it comet
! into the stream of living life, which flows on. of itself and
(parries the seeker on with it.

76. To the Papacy, when taken and judged according
to its own view of the matter, wrong was undoubtedly
done by the way in which it was taken by the Reformation^.
Its utterances were for the most part picked at random


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Online LibraryJohann Gottlieb FichteAddresses to the German nation → online text (page 9 of 22)