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Johann Gottlieb Fichte, "Addresses to the German Nation" (1807/08)

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This is the place where there is special need of the disposition which we invoked in our first address–the disposition not to deceive ourselves wilfully about our own affairs, and the courage to be willing to behold the truth and confess it to ourselves. Moreover, it is still permitted to us, so far as I know, to speak to each other in the German language about the fatherland, or at least to sigh over it, and, in my opinion, we should not do well if we anticipated of our own accord such a prohibition, or if we were ready to restrain our courage, which without doubt will already have taken counsel with itself as to the risk to be run, with the chains forged by the timidity of some individuals.

Picture to yourselves, then, the new power, which we are presupposing, as well-disposed and as benevolent as ever you may wish; make it as good as God Himself; will you be able to impart to it divine understanding as well? Even though it wish in all earnestness the greatest happiness and well-being of everyone, do you suppose that the greatest well-being it is able to conceive will be the same thing as German well-being? In regard to the main point which I have put before you today, I hope I have been thoroughly well understood by you; I hope that several, while they listened to me, thought and felt that I was only expressing in plain words what has always lain in their minds; I hope that the other Germans who will someday read this will have the same feeling–indeed, several Germans have said practically the same thing before I did, and the unconscious basis of the resistance that has been repeatedly manifested to a purely mechanical constitution and policy of the state has been the view of things which I have presented to you. Now, I challenge all those who are acquainted with the modern literature of foreign countries to show me one of their poets or legislators who in recent times has ever betrayed a glimmering of anything similar to the view that regards the human race as eternally progressing, and that refers all its activities in this world solely to this eternal progress. Even in the period of their boldest flights of political creation, was there a single one who demanded more from the state than the abolition of inequalities, the maintenance of peace within their borders and of national reputation without, or, in the extremest case, domestic bliss? If, as we must conclude from all these indications, this is their highest good, they will not attribute to us any higher needs or any higher demands on life. Assuming they always display that beneficent disposition toward us and are free from any selfishness or desire to be greater than we are, they will think they have provided splendidly for us if we are given everything that they themselves know to be desirable. But the thing for which alone the nobler men among us wish to live is then blotted out of public life; and as soon as the people, which has always shown itself responsive to the stirrings of the noble mind and which we were entitled to hope might be elevated in a body to that nobility, is treated as those to whom we are referring want to be treated, it is degraded and dishonored, and, by its confluence with a people of a lower species, it is blotted out of the universe.

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