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

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was a distinguished post-Kantian philosopher and notorious intellectual radical who was stripped of his Jena professorship in 1798 after allegations of atheism and Jacobinism were raised against him. Finding refuge in Prussia, he was appointed professor at the new University of Berlin, a post he held from 1810 until his death, four years later, at the age of 52. His addresses have been stigmatized as expressions of intolerant and megalomaniacal German nationalism. In reality, their worst fault is intemperate anti-French sentiment, not surprising in the era of the Napoleonic domination of Germany. These excerpts display Fichte’s inclination to interpret “Germanness” as a philosophical disposition that includes a drive toward the attainment of freedom and a liberal state (though he does not advocate a single German nation-state). The text displays the influence of German liberal historicism, Kantian moral-political philosophy, and Herderian concerns with national identity.

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Addresses to the German Nation

Johann Gottlieb Fichte

Seventh Address

A Closer Study of the Originality and Characteristics of a People

In the preceding addresses we have indicated and proved from history the characteristics of the Germans as an original people, and as a people that has the right to call itself simply the people, in contrast to other branches that have been torn away from it; for indeed the word “deutsch” in its real signification denotes what we have just said. It will be in accordance with our purpose if we devote another hour to this subject and deal with a possible objection, viz., that if this is something peculiarly German one must confess that at the present time there is but little left that is German among the Germans themselves. As we are quite unable to deny that this appears to be so, but rather intend to acknowledge it and to take a complete view of it in its separate parts, we propose to give an explanation of it at the outset.

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