Forgotten Roots of the Left:
Fichte’s Moral & Political Philosophy, Part III
Part 3 of 3 (Part 1 here, Part 2 here)
1. Fichte on the Nature of the State
We began to explore Fichte’s political philosophy in the last installment, as expounded primarily in his 1796 work Foundations of Natural Right. It is a basic principle of Fichte’s philosophy that subjectivity, what he calls the “I,” must bring nature under the control of reason. This includes both the nature around me in the world, and the nature within me: my inclinations, drives, and emotions.
To accomplish this is to realize our full human potential, which Fichte takes to be a moral imperative. However, no individual can become a free and self-determining rational being — can realize, in other words, his true nature — except in a community with other men. While Fichte takes reason to be universal and ahistorical, it is nonetheless inherently social. For example, no higher-level abstract reasoning is possible without language, and language is the product of society.
In this fashion, Fichte deduces that society or community is a necessary condition for the realization of our rational nature. He offers his political philosophy, in turn, as an a priori deduction of the necessary conditions for community. For instance, he argues that community is impossible unless we all agree to limit the exercise of our freedoms so that we do not encroach upon or negate the freedoms of others. In other words, community necessarily presupposes a social contract.
This contract would be meaningless without the community having the power to compel acquiescence. If that power were vested in all men, however, the result would be sheer chaos. A state is therefore necessary: All men agree to recognize the authority of a certain body of men to use force against those who would violate the social contract. The state is necessary to keep order — but it is important to keep in mind that this is not an end in itself: The state exists so that community may exist, and community exists so that we may strive for moral perfection as rational, self-determining agents.
Furthermore, as we shall explore in this essay, Fichte holds that one of the major tasks of the state is to educate the people precisely for this moral end. The state is supposed to aim at making the people perfectly rational — even though this goal will never be fully achieved. If it could be achieved, the state would cease to be necessary, as fully rational beings do not need to be governed by a coercive power. Thus, the aim of the state is actually to abolish itself — a concept more famously associated with Marx (his so-called “withering away of the state”), and which may have been inspired by this Fichtean doctrine.
Readers will be curious about just what sort of state Fichte advocates. He insists, however, that this is something that philosophy cannot deduce a priori. Fichte writes:
That science that deals with a particular state as (empirically) determined by contingent characteristics and that considers how the law of right can best be realized in that state, is called politics. The questions of politics have nothing to do with our science, the doctrine of right, which is purely a priori, and they must carefully separated from it.
The organization of actual states, Fichte holds, is a matter of individual cultural and historical circumstances. So long as the state functions in the manner he specifies, it could take a variety of forms. Fichte does, however, reject both despotism and democracy. By despotism (Despotismus) he means what Plato and Aristotle described as turannía (tyranny): rule by the whims of a single man. When Fichte rejects democracy, he has in mind a system in which the whole of the people itself wields collective sovereignty. In such a society, he argues, there is no way to compel the people to obey its own laws.
If only despotism and democracy are excluded, this allows for a great variety of states Fichte would consider legitimate, comprising a variety of social or governmental institutions. However, Fichte does argue that one “branch of government” is necessary, which he calls the ephorate. This is one of the more famous doctrines of the Foundations of Natural Right. Though Fichte borrows the term from the ancient Spartans, he actually compares the ephors to the Roman tribunes, and he claims to have deduced the necessity of the ephorate “on the basis of pure reason.”
The purpose of the ephorate is to prevent the state from abusing its power. The ephors are to be an elected group of guardians whose job is to observe the actions of the state authorities. If they feel that those authorities are abusing the trust the public has vested in them, the ephors have the power to suspend civil authority. Fichte conceives the ephorate as an “absolutely negative power” opposed to the “absolutely positive” power of the executive — just insofar as the function of the ephorate is exclusively to negate state authority. Thus it is not, strictly speaking, accurate to describe them as a “branch of government.” In a real sense, they stand outside government entirely, constituting a kind of independent moral authority sworn to guard against governmental corruption and excess.
At some point in the early 1790s, Fichte had become an enthusiastic Freemason. This is unsurprising, since by this point Masonic lodges had essentially become private clubs for advocates of Enlightenment rationalism. Fichte even wrote two substantial lectures on Masonry, later published anonymously in 1802-03 as “Letters to Constant.” He seems to have nourished the hope that the Masons could function as a kind of ephorate in European society. As one commentator puts it, “[Fichte] ardently wished for the return of a moral authority such as that exercised by the knights and secret tribunals of the Middle Ages, and believed that Freemasonry, not in its historical form but thanks to the prestige surrounding it, could perform this function.” This role of the Masons as an independent ephorate is not at all dissimilar to what Heinrich Himmler had envisioned for his SS.
2. Fichte’s National Socialism
So far in our account of Fichte’s political philosophy, the reader may have the impression that Fichte is a classical liberal. But this is really not the case. Aside from advocating a welfare state and the redistribution of wealth (topics we shall touch upon briefly in a moment), he also insisted on centralized state control of education. As noted earlier, Fichte believed that the moral education of the people, with the end of actualizing their nature as rational, self-determining beings, was one of the major purposes of the state. Fichte’s conception of this educational role was frankly paternalistic, with an educated elite carefully doling out Enlightenment to the masses. Thus, in The System of Ethics he writes of “institutions arranged by excellent human beings for the purpose of influencing others to develop their moral sense.” The most important of these institutions is to be a “learned republic” made up of experts charged with advancing knowledge through free inquiry, and disseminating that knowledge to the public. For Fichte, the main centers of this learned republic are to be the universities.
The ultimate purpose of the education of the people is “to produce unanimity concerning matters of morality,” since the goal of all virtuous people is “unanimous agreement concerning the same practical conviction and concerning the uniformity of acting that ensues therefrom.” In the language of Kantian morality, this means that all shall “will” or affirm the exact same moral principles. This seems like a dreadful idea: a society of perfectly programmed moral robots, all espousing the exact same convictions. But in the peculiar logic of German idealism, Fichte asks us to believe that this is the achievement of perfect freedom: “Then [when the unachievable final end of humanity has actually been achieved,] everyone will be allowed to do everything he wills because all will will the same.” A further goal of education (also never to be fully achieved) is to cause the distinction between a learned and an unlearned public to fall away.
It is these achievements that would, if they could ever be accomplished, occasion the Fichtean “withering away of the state.” His words on the subject are worth quoting at length:
The state falls away as a legislative and coercive power. The will of any single person is actually universal law, for all other persons will the same thing; And there is no need for constraint, because everyone already wills on his own what he is supposed to will. This ought to be the goal of all our thinking and acting, and even of our individual cultivation: our final end is not ourselves but everyone. Now if this unachievable goal is nevertheless thought of as achieved what would then happen? Employing one’s individual force in accordance with this common will, each person would do his best to modify nature appropriately for the usages of reason. Accordingly, anything that any one person does would be of use to everyone, and what everyone does would be of use to each individual — and this would be so in actuality for in actuality they all have only a single end.
The economic arrangements of Fichte’s state are discussed extensively in Fichte’s 1800 work The Closed Commercial State (Der geschlossene Handelstaat). There, Fichte advances the position that each society must establish its own self-sufficient economy. It is in this sense that the “commercial state” is “closed.” Despite his universalism and cosmopolitanism, Fichte is therefore far from being an economic globalist. Indeed, he argues that such international trade as is necessary must be carried out by the state alone, never by private citizens.
Fichte envisions a market economy, with strict government controls. In fact, the model he proposes is close to that which was established in the twentieth century by the Fascists and National Socialists, an observation which has been made by others. For example, in his History of Philosophy Frederick Copleston ends his account of The Closed Commercial State by remarking succinctly, “What Fichte envisages, therefore, is a form of national socialism.” Fichte argues that the state has a moral duty to regulate all commerce, for the good of the citizens. For example, the state may impose price controls so as to make necessities affordable to all. All citizens are required to work — save the aged, infirm, and temporarily unemployed — who shall be supported by the state. Fichte writes in Foundations: “just as . . . there ought to be no poor people in a rational state, so too (according to the present principle) ought there to be no idlers in it, either.”
The state also regulates the division of labor, instituting measures to ensure that no one economic sector of society becomes overrepresented or excessively powerful. No one is allowed to become too rich or too poor (though a relative rich and relative poor are unavoidable). To this end, Fichte argues that the state should have the power to redistribute wealth. He writes:
As soon as someone suffers from need, that portion of others’ property that would be required to spare him from such need no longer belongs to those others; rather, it rightfully belongs to the one in need. The civil contract must provide for such a repartitioning of property.
There is also to be no right of inheritance in Fichte’s state. When a man dies, his property belongs to the state. He may leave a will, designating heirs, but the state shall honor that will only if it deems it in the interests of the people as a whole. Otherwise, the property is to be distributed in a manner chosen by the state.
Fichte also argues for gun control (“the state surely does have the right to prohibit the possession of certain weapons, e.g. air-powered rifles”), for the necessity of all citizens to carry “identity cards” featuring a “precise description” of the bearer, and for the state regulation of patent medicines. However, he sounds a civil libertarian note when he writes that “[q]uackery and dabbling in cures must be prohibited for those who want to practice it but not for those who want to avail themselves of such services, if they can be found in a state that prohibits their practice; for each person is master of his own life.” Fichte also opposes the state use of secret agents to spy on its citizens, saying that “Secrecy is always petty, base, and immoral.”
3, The Historic Mission of the German Volk
Friedrich Schlegel reported that Fichte once told him that he “would rather count peas than study history.” Unsurprisingly, this did not stop Fichte from having a philosophy of history, which he expresses principally in his 1806 work Der Grundzüge des gegenwärtigen Zeitalters (The Characteristics of the Present Age). It contains few surprises. Exactly as one would predict, Fichte advances a linear vision of history beginning with a state of nature in which humans are completely ruled by passions and instincts, and reason is nowhere to be found. History is the story of man’s gradual achievement of reason and freedom, and liberation from the natural; in other words, it is the story of “progress.” Fichte actually “deduces” five stages of history, the details of which need not detain us.
That same year, the philosopher of history collided with history itself. On October 27, 1806, French troops captured the Prussian capital of Berlin, where Fichte was then living. Just a few days earlier, the French had taken Jena — where, according to legend, Hegel was just completing The Phenomenology of Spirit to the sounds of approaching cannon fire. Along with the Prussian government, Fichte fled to Königsberg (the home of another great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who had died there two years earlier). It was the French occupation that produced a change in Fichte that I doubt my readers can have seen coming: This ardent cosmopolitan and universalist realized for the first time that he was a German.
In other words, he became a German nationalist — one of the leading figures in the history of German nationalism, in fact. As a result of this, Fichte is usually seen as a strange political hybrid: a fanatical Jacobin and forerunner of figures like Feuerbach and Marx, as well as a fanatical German nationalist and forerunner of Hitler. In fact, however, the combination of radical liberal sympathies with nationalism was not uncommon among nineteenth-century German intellectuals (Wagner is another famous example). It was not until the twentieth century that nationalism became exclusively associated with the political Right.
In the winter of 1807, Fichte returned to Berlin while it was still occupied by Napoleon’s troops. There, he took the bold step of delivering a series of passionate and well-attended lectures later published as Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation). Fichte’s conversion to nationalism is deliciously ironic. In The System of Ethics he had excoriated the tendency of human beings to act out of “pathognomic love,” or the non-rational love of one’s own, as “reprehensible” (see the first part of this series).  But anyone can see that in delivering the Addresses he was moved precisely by pathognomic love — anyone, that is, except Fichte himself.
One of the white race’s peculiarities is that we must always have a reason to think that we are worth saving. Other races don’t seem to need this; they seem to simply act on the basis of pathognomic love itself. Blacks, for example, don’t seem to need a reason to act so as to secure their group interests; they just do. But we always seem to need to supplement love of our own with a theory about why we are “the best,” why we have a “historic mission,” etc. (William Pierce’s “cosmotheism” provides a striking and rather amusing recent example of this — read about it here.) Fichte is no exception to this tendency. He manages to square his universalism with his love of Germans and German culture by arguing that it is the historic mission of his people to spread universalism.
Fichte did not abandon his Jacobin ideals. Instead, he simply shifted his hopes for who might lead the way in enlightening mankind. The French under Napoleon have betrayed the spirit of the revolution, he argued, and the torch has now been passed to the Germans. Fichte maintains in the Addresses that the Germans possess a unique aptitude for placing nature under the dominion of reason and thus achieving the status of free, self-determining moral agents. Since this is, for Fichte, the realization of our authentic human nature, he is arguing, in effect, that the Germans have a greater potential for being human than other humans (though this is only an implication of his position and is not explicitly stated).
As Alexander Aichele puts it, for Fichte “Germanness” has become a kind of “epistemic state.” Fichte writes:
All who either live creatively, bringing forth the new themselves, or, should this not have fallen to their lot, at least decisively abandon things of vanity and keep watch to see whether somewhere they will be caught by the stream of original life, or, should they not have made it this far, at least have an inkling of freedom and do not hate or fear it, but love it: all these are original men; they are, when viewed as a people, an original people, the people as such: Germans.
However, the problem with turning Germanness into an epistemic state, of course, is that all others who, against the odds, manage to achieve that state must be counted as “Germans” (and then we would have arrived at a concept of “Germanness” that an anti-nationalist like Angela Merkel could endorse). But Fichte has an answer to this problem.
In the Addresses, he expounds a philosophy of language according to which a people’s capacity for consciousness of itself (obviously, a crucial component in the development of reason and self-determination) is dependent on the possession of a “living language.” A living language is what results when, as a result of a natural process of cultural maturation, a people has arrived at certain abstract concepts for which it develops its own unique words. A “dead language” would be one that does not exhibit this organic process of evolution, but which instead borrows terms denoting abstract concepts from other languages. The problem with this is that one doesn’t just borrow the words; one borrows another culture’s unique slant on the concepts they denote. (A point with which Heidegger would surely agree).
Unsurprisingly, Fichte argues that German is just such a living language — whereas all other European languages are “dead languages.” Just consider the amount of vocabulary in other European languages that derives from Latin and Greek. The Germans can, if they choose, refer to Realität (borrowed from French réalité, which is derived from Latin), but they could instead use their own Wirklichkeit. We English speakers are stuck with “reality” or “actuality” (both Latin-derived). Thus, the attempts of non-Germans to arrive at a state of rational self-realization will always be hampered by a certain linguistic inauthenticity. It is as if they are letting another culture do their thinking for them. As a result, they can never arrive at an authentic, mature cultural self-consciousness. And this means that they can never lead the way in guiding humanity to rational self-determination.
Therefore, in Aichele’s words, “Germanness forms the transcendental condition of humankind’s progress.” Now, one might object that this still defines “Germanness” too broadly to be acceptable to a true nationalist. After all, don’t other people learn German, and learn to think in German? This objection, however, completely misses the point. Foreigners who learn German are merely mastering an alien language that is not their own people’s creation. And do they ever really learn to think in German? Under the surface, their minds have still been shaped by the dead language that belongs to their own people. Thus, only the Germans can really be German. Or, to quote Aichele again, “becoming a ‘true German’ presupposes being German.”
It follows that, for Fichte, human progress consists in the Germans helping all nations to approximate as far as possible to Germanness. In other words, the Germans must make their culture universal. The endpoint here would be the establishment of a global German nation-state. Fichte writes in the Addresses:
The German spirit . . . 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 dwellings. [The] German spirit is an eagle, whose mighty body thrusts itself on high and soars on strong and well-practiced wings into the empyrean, that it might rise nearer to the sun whereon it delights to gaze.
It is hard not to see this as anything other than a statement of pathognomic love. Yet the whole point of the Addresses is arguably to transmute this love into something “rational” — through the realization that the love of the Germans for themselves is just the same thing as the love of reason and of the mission of human perfection. In order for the Germans to get going on their great national mission, Fichte argues in the Addresses that their first task must be throwing off the French yoke.
4. The Abolition of Individuality
In essence, Fichte has argued that to be German is to be charged with the task of making all men perfectly rational and creating a perfectly just society. It is important to understand, however, that these are not two separate goals for Fichte. The achievement of perfect rationality would actually be the achievement of perfect equality. In his 1794 work Some Lectures Concerning the Vocation of the Scholar, Fichte writes that
[a]ll of the individuals who belong to the human race differ among themselves. There is only one thing in which they are in complete agreement: their ultimate goal — perfection . . . if all men could be perfect . . . then they would be totally equal to each other. They would constitute but one single subject . . . accordingly, the ultimate and highest goal of society is the complete unity and unanimity of all of its members.
Key here is the claim that they would “constitute but one single subject,” As I noted in Part I (as well as in earlier essays), Fichte has often been misunderstood as claiming that all of reality is the creation of the “Absolute Ego.” Instead, what he actually claims is that it should be. In other words, man must strive for the complete transformation of nature according to human ideals. Such a transformation amounts to the progressive elimination of the object or “other,” and the absolutization of the “I” or ego.
This process, however, is two-pronged. We must simultaneously transform the nature that confronts us “out there,” as well as the nature in ourselves: i.e., everything within us that is “natural,” non-rational, and unchosen, such as all of our drives and emotions. If all human beings were perfectly rational, with no gaps in their knowledge (and perfect knowledge should be a goal as well), they would be indistinguishable as to their thoughts and actions — or so Fichte believed. They would cease to be individuals, and would constitute “one single subject.” Thus, if my nature is rationality — as every philosopher from Aristotle onwards has claimed — its perfection entails my disappearance as a distinct human individual.
In other words, the conquest of nature — including the nature within us — would constitute the birth, at long last, of the Absolute Ego. Again, this is an infinite task — but it gives us a clear goal to shoot for: the complete eradication of human individuality. This is not merely an implication of Fichte’s position; he states it openly. In his 1806 work Characteristics of the Present Age, Fichte asserts the “unconditional rejection of all individuality.”
In Characteristics, Fichte states that “the rational life consists in a person forgetting himself in the species, placing his life in the service of the life of the whole, and sacrificing it for its sake.” In order to bring this about, the state must undertake a national education aimed at suppressing self-interest. Fichte discusses this at length in Addresses, in which he drops the language of “species” (Gattung) but continues to insist that individuality must be sacrificed to the collective. One is reminded of a famous slogan of the National Socialists: Du bist nichts, dein Volk ist alles (you are nothing, your people is everything). Except that, for Fichte, through national education the sense of das Volk must be expanded to embrace all of mankind.
5. Conclusion: Coming to Terms with Fichte
This is my eighth post concerning Fichte, and these essays have constituted a continuation of my series on “Heidegger’s History of Metaphysics.” I have covered most, but not all, aspects of Fichte’s philosophy. I hope that these essays have convinced the reader that Fichte is a worthwhile and important figure in the history of philosophy. Compared to the other German philosophers, he is rather neglected, and a secondary purpose of these essays has been to convince the reader that this is an injustice.
Why has Fichte been neglected? Principally for three reasons. First, he is often extraordinarily difficult to read. Fichte produced a number of popular works (the most widely-read today being the 1800 Vocation of Man), and these are not only readable but often also rhetorically brilliant. However, his major philosophical works (the Wissenschaftslehre, Foundations of Natural Right, System of Ethics, etc.) are often intimidatingly obscure — even more obscure, at certain points, than Hegel. Second, as I have discussed at length, Fichte has been erroneously interpreted as holding that all of reality is the creation of the Absolute Ego. Since this seems to most like an absurd position, later generations have regarded Fichte as a bit of a madman. Insofar as he has been taken seriously, Fichte has been seen merely as a transitional figure between Kant and the “absolute idealists,” Schelling and Hegel — and this is the third reason for his neglect. That Fichte is a brilliant philosopher in his own right has, I hope, become clear to the reader.
However, Fichte is also wrong about a great deal and has exercised a baleful influence on posterity. It is possible to be a brilliant philosopher and to be wrong, even spectacularly wrong. Descartes is a brilliant philosopher, but he is wrong about almost everything. The primary purpose of my Fichte essays, in fact, has been to demonstrate that Fichte is one of the great unread architects of modernity. And my treatment of Fichte has been informed at every step by Heidegger’s analysis and critique of modernity — more specifically of modern technological civilization.
Heidegger’s account of modern philosophy is unique in that he does not treat it as constituting some sort of radical break from earlier philosophy, due to its supposed “subjective turn” (i.e., its turn toward a focus on the nature and limits of human subjectivity). Instead, he sees the subjective turn as a development of the “metaphysics of presence” that he finds in Western philosophy beginning with Plato and some of the pre-Socratics. I have dealt with the metaphysics of presence in many other essays. In brief, it is the “hidden will” in Western intellectual history to distort the Being of beings by accommodating it to the human desire that beings should be permanently present to us, hiding nothing, and available for our manipulation.
Fichte’s real significance for the history of metaphysics is that we find in him a conscious and explicit affirmation of the metaphysics of presence, which had hitherto operated in the philosophic tradition in a purely subterranean fashion. In Fichte, more than in any other philosopher, we see an anticipation of late modernity’s mindset, which Heidegger dubbed das Gestell, rendered by most translators as “enframing.” Essentially, it refers to the modern attitude that nature is nothing more than raw material for human exploitation. It is as if we stretch the Earth and everything on it on a rack, or “frame” everything in such a way that, so far as we are concerned, to be means merely to be “stuff” for human consumption and manipulation (what Heidegger calls Bestand, “stockpile,” or, as translators usually render it, “standing-reserve”). Das Gestell is the ultimate expression of the “metaphysics of presence.”
To explain what Gestell means for Heidegger is virtually to offer a summation of the core of Fichte’s philosophy. As I have repeatedly stated in these essays, Fichte sees the purpose of human life as the transformation of all of nature according to human ideals. He explicitly conceives this task (which is an infinite one) as the progressive erasure of the distinction between subject and object. Our goal is to reach a point where the subject has been absolutized, since all of nature has been transformed into the products of our minds. In confronting the world, we would thus be confronted, in effect, only with ourselves. “Nature” as such will have disappeared.
In this three-part series on Fichte’s “moral and political philosophy,” we have now also seen that human individuality will have disappeared as well. It, too, is to be transformed according to the ideal. Human beings are to be made “equal” by becoming interchangeable. They are to become “free” through all of them willing the exact same thing. And they are to become “rational” through unanimity, and the disappearance of all dissent. Fichte sees all of this as the establishment of heaven on Earth; as the triumph or reason and virtue.
However, from the Reign of Terror to the Gulag, we have seen that such dreams usually turn into nightmares. It is as if the dreamers, the idealists, are unwitting vehicles of demonic forces of destruction which employ such idealism merely to annihilate all order and to make life impossible for healthy and decent men. Such a claim (if we understand “demonic forces” figuratively) is not at all incompatible with Heidegger’s own perspective on the history of philosophy. He takes the position that philosophers always unwittingly articulate the prevailing “dispensation of Being.” It really is as if they are in the grip of historical forces of which they have no knowledge, and to which they are compelled to give voice. They thus wind up becoming vehicles for the propagation and intensification of the reigning Zeitgeist. (Though he does admit the possibility that some philosophers may give voice to a coming Zeitgeist; indeed, he clearly sees himself as one.)
The modern “dispensation of Being” is no sunlit march toward progress, contrary to what Fichte thinks. Instead, it is das Gestell. It is the march toward the “requisitioning” of all beings by a merciless system that exists solely to propagate itself, and which transforms all that exists into disposable, interchangeable commodities. Human beings imagine they are the authors of this system, but they are actually in thrall to it — destined to become disposable, interchangeable commodities themselves. In the “Bremen Lectures” of 1949, Heidegger writes that
This violence of requisitioning leads to the suspicion that what is here named requisitioning is no mere human doing, even if the human belongs to the carrying out of such a requisitioning. . . . The human is thereby an employee of requisitioning. Humans are thus, individually and in masses, assigned into this. The human is now the one ordered in, by, and for the requisitioning. Requisitioning is no human deed; in order for human effectiveness to cooperate each time in the requisitioning, as it does, it must already be orderable by this requisitioning for a corresponding doing and allowing.
And in the essay “Age of the World Picture,” we find the following:
In the planetary imperialism of technically organized man the subjectivism of man reaches its highest point from which it will descend to the flatness of organized uniformity and there establish itself. This uniformity becomes the surest instrument of the total, i.e., technological, dominion over the earth. The modern freedom of subjectivity is completely absorbed into the corresponding objectivity. By himself, man cannot abandon this destining of his modern essence; He cannot abolish it by fiat.
This modern, technological trajectory toward absolute uniformity is prefigured in the Fichtean philosophical system. In Fichte, the infinite striving to master and transform nature issues, with ironclad logic, in a striving to master and transform human nature. Just as the individuality and uniqueness of natural objects must be erased, so must it be erased in humanity. Heidegger sees the totalizing systems of the German idealists as sketches (or prophecies) of the world order that would emerge in the twentieth century: the all-encompassing technological system in which all of nature, including human nature, has been processed into a collection of ever-expanding, infinitely replicable, and uniform commodities.
In the “Freiburg Lectures” of 1957, Heidegger writes:
Along a long and convoluted path, Western European thinking finally and wittingly reached the ambit of light formed by it and its reflection-character. This light-dimension is speculative dialectics that, after the precedent of Kant, develops itself into a system in the thinking of Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel. The system to be contemplated here would remain misunderstood were we to represent it as merely a woven net of concepts thrown over actuality. As “the thought” [der Gedanke] the system is Being itself, dissolving all beings in itself and thus sketching out the preliminary form of what now comes to the fore as the essence of the technological world.
In their quest for absolute, total knowledge, the German idealists created “systems” each of which, as Heidegger puts it, “[dissolved] all beings into itself” — just as the modern technological world dissolves all beings into itself. Thus, those philosophical systems stand as “sketches” or anticipations of that world. It is a striking theory, and it is important to note that it is founded on Heidegger’s claim that philosophers are always either expressing the spirit of their times, or the times to come — and that they are usually unconscious of being “used” in this fashion. Heidegger argues that the philosophical process of preparing the way for the modern dominion of das Gestell culminates in Nietzsche, whose “eternal recurrence of the same” anticipates the modern technological world of endlessly replaceable commodity formation.
One might, however, quibble with one aspect of the above claims from the “Freiburg Lectures.” Heidegger lumps Fichte together with Schelling and with Hegel. Yet there is a key difference between Fichte and the other two thinkers — one that is of vital importance. Early on, Schelling was a follower of Fichte, and Fichte saw the younger man as his philosophical ally. They soon parted ways, however, and the reason had to do precisely with Fichte’s treatment of nature simply as raw material for human moral overcoming. Schelling was unable to accept this position, because he saw nature as possessing intrinsic value. He thus argued for supplementing Fichte’s transcendental idealism with what he called “philosophy of nature.” For Schelling, transcendental idealism would argue that all of reality could be understood to be the creation of the subject. The philosophy of nature, on the other hand, demonstrated the reverse: that human subjectivity could be seen as the ultimate product of nature itself. Fichte would have none of this, and repudiated Schelling. Hegel’s system would be a development of Schelling’s, with certain key differences.
Thus, what we seem to have in the Schellingian philosophy is a rebellion against the “metaphysics of presence.” In rejecting the thesis that nature is nothing more than a check on human will, and affirming that it has meaning and being in itself, Schelling seems to be rejecting the anthropocentrism of the metaphysics of presence. He seems, in other words, to be arguing for the value and significance of an irreducible other to human subjectivity. In words with which Heidegger would surely agree, Schelling writes that “[t]he whole of modern European philosophy since its inception (through Descartes) has this common deficiency — that nature does not exist for it and that it lacks a living basis.”
Does Schelling, in the end, succeed in overcoming this deficiency? We shall see — for the next stop in my exploration of the history of metaphysics à la Heidegger will be Schelling.
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 J. G. Fichte, Foundations of Natural Right, (henceforth, FNR), ed. Frederick Neuhouser, trans. Michael Baur (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 249.
 FNR, 151.
 FNR, 151.
 Ives Radrizzani, “The Wissenschaftslehre and Historical Engagement” in The Cambridge Companion to Fichte, ed. David James and Günter Zöller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 234.
 J. G. Fichte, The System of Ethics (henceforth, SE), trans. Daniel Breazeale and Günter Zöller (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 194.
 SE, 329.
 SE, 224.
 SE, 242. Italics added.
 Almost his exact words in SE, 241.
 SE, 241.
 Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. VII: Fichte to Nietzsche (New York: Image Books, 1985), 74.
 FNR, 186.
 FNR, 186.
 For an admirably clear discussion of all these matters, see Allen D. Wood, “Fichte’s Philosophy of Right and Ethics” in The Cambridge Companion to Fichte.
 Gun control and identity cards are to be found in FNR, 257. Regulation of patent medicines in FNR, 255.
 FNR, 255. Italics in original.
 FNR, 263.
 I will admit to engaging in a certain amount of hyperbole here. However, I am not familiar with any evidence that Fichte had strong nationalist views prior to 1806.
 SE, 289. Italics added.
 See Alexander Aichele, “Ending Individuality: The Mission of a Nation in Fichte’s Addresses to the German Nation,” in The Cambridge Companion to Fichte, 269.
 Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, quoted in Aichele, 269.
 Fichte recognizes only the Scandinavian languages as exceptions to this judgment — though he considers the Scandinavians to be Germans. See Aichele, 266, and see pp. 265-266 for a discussion of the entire issue of a living language.
 Aichele, 269.
 See Aichele, 270.
 J. G. Fichte, Addresses to the German Nation, ed. George Armstrong Kelly, trans. R. F. Jones & G. H. Turnbull (New York: Harper and Row, 1968), 73-74.
 Quoted in Ives Radrizzani, “The Wissenschaftslehre and Historical Engagement” in The Cambridge Companion to Fichte, 244. Italics added. Ellipses present in Radrizzani.
 Quoted in Aichele, 254.
 Quoted in Aichele, 255.
 This point is discussed very clearly in Aichele, 255-256.
 Martin Heidegger, Bremen and Freiburg Lectures, trans. Andrew J. Mitchell (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2012), 29.
 Martin Heidegger, Off the Beaten Track, trans. Julian Young & Kenneth Haynes (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 84.
 Quoted in Martin Heidegger, Schelling’s Treatise On the Essence of Human Freedom, trans. Joan Stambaugh (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1985), 103.
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Great writing, as always, Mr. Cleary. Can’t wait for the next piece, this time on Schelling.
My deepest thanks for this brilliant series. These latest essays on Fichte have been very illuminating, as well as more bone-chillingly horrifying as they went on. Not unlike a slow motion train crash.
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