Monday, October 23, 2006

Pre-Darwinists (2) Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Addresses to the German Nation

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814), German philosopher, is traditionally only seen as a bridge between Kant and Hegel doing away with Kant's notion of Das Ding an Sich (The Thing in Itself).


René Descartes, in the 17th century, made a distinction between mind and matter. Matter had extension and other sensual qualities, and a material object remained the same, even if it sensual qualities changed. And matter could be explained fully mechanistic; that is, deterministic. Mind, on the other hand, had no extension, no sensual qualities, and it had free will.

But how does the mind know that matter exists? Not from experience, since all experience of an external world only exists in the mind. The mind cannot experience its object, the thing in itself, without it having any extension or other sensual qualities, and these was all that the mind could experience. So wasn't everything only existing in the mind?

That is, did the external world really exist?

For David Hume, the external world existed prior to experience, but in the form of potential sensual impressions. That is, all we can know can only be known through experience. When we talk about a thing, we really talk about its sensual qualities, and therefore, if we cannot describe a thing by sensual qualities, that thing cannot exist. For instance an apple would, according to Hume, be a complex sensual impression made up of the simple sensual impressions of its shape, color, scent, taste, and so on. There was nothing more to it, not both these sensual impressions and the apple in itself. What we call "an apple" is simply a certain combination of sensual impressions.

Now, the obvious problem here is that names for sensual impressions are general concepts, 'round', 'red, and 'sweet' may describe an apple; but how did we ever learn about these concepts except through experience with individual things? For isntance, we have never experienced roundness, only round things. That is, sensual qualities must be attributes of things, which cannot be merely the combination of those qualities.

So, the thing in itself exists and is not reducible to its sensual qualities, the phenomena.

For Hume, language was passive, it wasn't used in constructing the world, only in describing it, and each name in a language was only meaningful, if it corresponded to a sensual impression. For Immanuel Kant, language was active. A language contains concepts, and these concepts are prior to experience; they are constructs of the mind and actively used in understanding the external word. The external world as understood by the mind is therefore different from the external world as not (yet) understood, as the thing in itself.

Now, we are ready to move on to Fichte. If the thing in itself exists, the mind, which is supposedly free and independent, must be contingent on something, which has no consciousness and therefore is not free and independent. So, for Fichte, the Kantian dualism implied determinism; the only limit that could exist for the individual mind would have instead to be the minds of others, and therefore the external world was a social construct.

So, the thing in itself does not exist, yet the individual mind is not unbounded.

Addresses to the German Nation

We'll leave Fichte's metaphysique here and move on to his nationalism.

During July 1806 most of the German states had joined Napoléon, and August 6, emperor Franz of Austria resigns as German emperor, and the First Reich ceases to exist. Prussia, who had not joined Napoléon demands all French troops out of southern Germany, where Napoléon had made Maximilian the first King of Bavaria in 1805. The French refuse, and Prussia mobilizes, but is defeated October the 14 in the battles of Jena and Auerstedt, and also in subsequent battles. Although Lübeck remains in Prussian possession until November 7, French troops occupy Berlin October 27.

During the occupation, Fichte, who had been a supporter of the French Revolution, reconsiders his position and writes his Addresses to the German Nation (Reden an die Deutsche Nation) (1806-08).

Excerpts of two of these Addresses can be found here and here.

In the first Address from 1806, Fichte writes:

The first, original, and truly natural boundaries of states are beyond doubt their internal boundaries. Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself, long before any human art begins; they understand each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly; they belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole. Such a whole, if it wishes to absorb and mingle with itself any other people of different descent and language, cannot do so without itself becoming confused, in the beginning at any rate, and violently disturbing the even progress of its culture.

Words such as 'nation', 'nature', 'innate', and 'native' all come from the same Latin root, 'natus', perfectum participium of 'nasce', '(to) be born'. For the Romans, to count as a Roman you needed to be a member of one of the Roman tribes. Even if such a membership was fake. Auxiliary soldiers of non-Roman descent were after their 25 years of service granted Roman citizenship and given a pedigree within one of the Roman tribes. But by that time such a soldier would of course also have learned Roman language and culture.

Fichte is here out in the mission of uniting the divided German states against the French and plays on language as the unifying agent, even to the extent of claiming language to be part of nature; that is, innate.

The internal boundaries are natural, and the external boundaries are consequences of the internal boundaries:

From this internal boundary, which is drawn by the spiritual nature of man himself, the marking of the external boundary by dwelling place results as a consequence; and in the natural view of things it is not because men dwell between certain mountains and rivers that they are a people, but, on the contrary, men dwell together -- and, if their luck has so arranged it, are protected by rivers and mountains -- because they were a people already by a law of nature which is much higher.

Note here the reference to "a law of nature" as binding for humans and almost forming the physical landscape to fit with who speaks which language.

Now, at last, let us be bold enough to look at the deceptive vision of a universal monarchy, which people are beginning to hold up for public veneration in place of that equilibrium which for some time has been growing more and more preposterous, and let us perceive how hateful and contrary to reason that vision is. Spiritual nature was able to present the essence of humanity in extremely diverse gradations in individuals and in individuality as a whole, in peoples. Only when each people, left to itself, develops and forms itself in accordance with its own peculiar quality, and only when in every people each individual develops himself in accordance with that common quality, as well as in accordance with his own peculiar quality -- then, and then only, does the manifestation of divinity appear in its true mirror as it ought to be; and only a man who either entirely lacks the notion of the rule of law and divine order, or else is an obdurate enemy thereto, could take upon himself to want to interfere with that law, which is the highest law in the spiritual world!

So, according to Fichte, each people is subject to a divine law that commands it to develop itself and each individual within that people according to its peculiar quality, its spriritual nature. Not that Fichte denies the 'essence of humanity', that we are created equal, it's just that some humans are more equal than others. And therefore, a universal monarchy, which would impose the same order on all peoples, is a violation of the divine order.

Richard Weikart's in From Darwin to Hitler claims that it was Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species in 1859 that introduced the idea of human inequality, or at least somehow was used to introduce that idea, and idea that was contrary to the prevailing 'Judeo-Christian' idea of human equality due to all humans having been created in the image of God and having descended from the same one pair of humans. This claim would seem to be untenable.

For Fichte at least, it is the opposite way around. The original source of life has endowed each nation with spiritual qualities, and they should remain true to those qualities instead of becoming equal in the sense of having the same qualities:

Only in the invisible qualities of nations, which are hidden from their own eyes -- qualities as the means whereby these nations remain in touch with the source of original life -- only therein is to be found the guarantee of their present and future worth, virtue, and merit. If these qualities are dulled by admixture and worn away by friction, the flatness that results will bring about a separation from spiritual nature, and this in its turn will cause all men to be fused together in their uniform and collective destruction.

In the Address of 1807, Fichte writes:

Love that is truly love, and not a mere transitory lust, never clings to what is transient; only in the eternal does it awaken and become kindled, and there alone does it rest. Man is not able to love even himself unless he conceives himself as eternal; apart from that he cannot even respect, much less approve, of himself. Still less can he love anything outside himself without taking it up into the eternity of his faith and of his soul and binding it thereto.

Here Fichte operates with an eternal soul and the idea that this eternal soul needs to bind itself to something equally eternal. For Fichte, that something was the fatherland:

He who does not first regard himself as eternal has in him no love of any kind, and, moreover, cannot love a fatherland, a thing which for him does not exist. He who regards his invisible life as eternal, but not his visible life as similarly eternal, may perhaps have a heaven and therein a fatherland, but here below he has no fatherland, for this, too, is regarded only in the image of eternity -- eternity visible and made sensuous, and for this reason also he is unable to love his fatherland. If none has been handed down to such a man, he is to be pitied. But he to whom a fatherland has been handed down, and in whose soul heaven and earth, visible and invisible meet and mingle, and thus, and only thus, create a true and enduring heaven -- such a man fights to the last drop of his blood to hand on the precious possession unimpaired to his posterity.

As above, so below - the idea of a Christian Nation on earth.

Hence, the noble-minded man will be active and effective, and will sacrifice himself for his people. Life merely as such, the mere continuance of changing existence, has in any case never had any value for him; he has wished for it only as the source of what is permanent. But this permanence is promised to him only by the continuous and independent existence of his nation. In order to save his nation he must be ready even to die that it may live, and that he may live in it the only life for which he has ever wished.

In Mein Kampf, chapter 3, "Political Reflections Arising out of My Sojourn in Vienna", Hitler writes:

The Pan-German Movement could hope for success only if the leaders realized from the very first moment that here there was no question so much of a new Party as of a new Weltanschauung. This alone could arouse the inner moral forces that were necessary for such a gigantic struggle. And for this struggle the leaders must be men of first-class brains and indomitable courage. If the struggle on behalf of a Weltanschauung is not conducted by men of heroic spirit who are ready to sacrifice, everything, within a short while it will become impossible to find real fighting followers who are ready to lay down their lives for the cause. A man who fights only for his own existence has not much left over for the service of the community.

The idea here is the same: not a fight for personal existence; but the self-sacrifice in the service of the community, the nation. And in chapter 11, "Race and People", Hitler writes:

The readiness to sacrifice one's personal work and, if necessary, even one's life for others shows its most highly developed form in the Aryan race. The greatness of the Aryan is not based on his intellectual powers, but rather on his willingness to devote all his faculties to the service of the community. Here the instinct for self-preservation has reached its noblest form; for the Aryan willingly subordinates his own ego to the common weal and when necessity calls he will even sacrifice his own life for the community.

This is more of the same, just with more stress on that this willingness to self-sacrifice is most developed in the Aryan. It is not that there are no echoes of Darwin; a word such as 'instinct', of course, refers to a foundation in biology, and after all, in The Descent of Man, Darwin stresses the importance of the social instincts for human survival, not a struggle each against all. Still, the idea of a self-sacrifice for the benefit of the community did not originate with Darwin. Not with Fichte either; however, the similarity between Fichte's nationalism and Hitler's nationalism is greater than the similarity between Darwin's social instincts and Hitler's instinct for self-preservation transformed into the willingness of sacrificing yourself to save your community.

For Fichte, this is how it has always been:

So it has always been, although it has not always been expressed in such general terms and so clearly as we express it here. What inspired the men of noble mind among the Romans, whose frame of mind and way of thinking still live and breathe among us in their works of art, to struggles and sacrifices, to patience and endurance for the fatherland? They themselves express it often and distinctly. It was their firm belief in the eternal continuance of their Roma, and their confident expectation that they themselves would eternally continue to live in this eternity in the stream of time. In so far as this belief was well-founded, and they themselves would have comprehended it if they had been entirely clear in their own minds, it did not deceive them. To this very day there still lives in our midst what was truly eternal in their eternal Roma.

This paragraph naturally leads to the story of the Germans among the Romans:

In this belief in our earliest common forefathers, the original stock of the new culture, the Germans, as the Romans called them, bravely resisted the oncoming world dominion of the Romans. Did they not have before their eyes the greater brilliance of the Roman provinces next to them and the more refined enjoyments in those provinces, to say nothing of laws and judges, seats and lictors, axes and fasces in superfluity? Were not the Romans willing enough to let them share in all these blessings?

So, why did the Germans say 'no'? Because

Freedom to them meant just this: remaining Germans and continuing to settle their own affairs, independently and in accordance with the original spirit of their race, going on with their development in accordance with the same spirit, and propagating this independence in their posterity. All those blessings which the Romans offered them meant slavery to them because then they would have to become something that was not German, they would have to become half-Roman. They assumed as a matter of course that every man would rather die than become half a Roman, and that a true German could only want to live in order to be, and to remain, just a German and to bring up his children as Germans.

That is, because they were Germans and therefore could not beome fully Roman, no matter how much they might submit to the Romans and have high positions bestowed upon them. And it is this German resistance against fully submitting to the Romans that decided the course that led to the modern world:

They did not all die; they did not see slavery; they bequeathed freedom to their children. It is their unyielding resistance which the whole modern world has to thank for being what it now is. Had the Romans succeeded in bringing them also under the yoke and in destroying them as a nation, which the Romans did in every case, the whole development of the human race would have taken a different course, a course that one cannot think would have been more satisfactory.

Next up is, of course, accusing the French of having forgotten that they themselves owe their existence to that same German resistance:

It is they whom we must thank -- we, the immediate heirs of their soil, their language, and their way of thinking -- for being Germans still, for being still borne along on the stream of original and independent life. It is they whom we must thank for everything that we have been as a nation since those days, and to them we shall be indebted for everything that we shall be in the future, unless things come to an end with us now and the last drop of blood inherited from them has dried up in our veins. To them the other branches of the race, whom we now look upon as foreigners, but who by descent from them are our brothers, are indebted for their very existence. When our ancestors triumphed over Roma the eternal, not one of all these peoples was in existence, but the possibility of their existence in the future was won for them in the same fight.

Hitler wrote Mein Kampf, while imprisoned in the fortress Landsberg am Lech, and in the "Preface", he writes:

At half-past twelve in the afternoon of November 9th, 1923, those whose names are given below fell in front of the Feldherrnhalle and in the forecourt of the former War Ministry in Munich for their loyal faith in the resurrection of their people:

[list of 16 names]

So-called national officials refused to allow the dead heroes a common burial. So I dedicate the first volume of this work to them as a common memorial, that the memory of those martyrs may be a permanent source of light for the followers of our Movement.

The Fortress, Landsberg a/L.,

October 16th, 1924

But what went before? In 1923, the German economy was completely ruined, and a respite with paying the the war debts was asked for. France refused and invaded Germany, occupied the Ruhr district and seized several German towns in the Rhineland. As part of the Versailles Treaty, the Rhineland was disarmed, so the French met little resistance. The French carried on an intensive propaganda for the separation of the Rhineland from the German Republic and the establishment of an independent Rhenania. This propaganda was to a large extent done by Germans paid by the French, and due to the economic situation it wasn't too difficult to find people willing to work for the French. In Bavaria there even was a movement to establish an independent Catholic monarchy under vassalage to France. All in all a situation that reminded the 1805-06 situation quite a lot.

On the night of November 8, 1923, the Bavarian patriotic societies held a meeting in the Bürgerbräu Keller in Munich. Prime Minister Dr. von Kahr started to read his official proclamation of Bavarian independence and secession from the Weimar republic. While von Kahr was speaking, Hitler entered the beer hall, followed by former general Ludendorff, which broke up the meeting. Next day the Hitler and Ludendorff with their Sturm Abtailung (Storm Troopers) marched through the streets in favour of national union. As they reached one of the central squares of the city, the army that had built barricades, opened fire on them. Sixteen of the marchers were instantly killed, and two died of their wounds in the local barracks of the Reichswehr. Hitler fell on the pavement and broke a collar-bone, while Ludendorff marched straight up to the soldiers, but not a man dared draw a trigger on his old commander.

Hitler was sentenced to six years imprisonment, but only served one year, which he spent writing the first volume of Mein Kampf.


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