Like many a young romantic, Fichte embraced the possibilities of the French Revolution. It was, however, his rejection of Spinozism that led to his rightward interpretation of events.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Fichte did not view equality, the rights of man, universal brotherhood and perpetual peace as ends in themselves. John Dunn on rights. Fichte’s egalitarian concern was to release the full potentialities of everyone in order that a common moral end could be most effectively pursued. ‘The aim of all culture of human capacity’, he wrote in the Vocation of the Scholar, ‘is to subject Nature to Reason’.
Fichte consciously opposed his ideas to those of Rousseau. To Rousseau, Fichte argued, ‘the advancement of culture is the sole cause of all human depravity. According to him there is no salvation for man but in a State of Nature...’1
The vices of society might cease to exist in such a condition - ‘but with it, Virtue and Reason too would be destroyed. Man becomes an irrational creature ; there is a new race of animals, and men no longer exist.’2
A Spinozist turn to the French Revolution, fuelled by the writings of Rousseau and others, spelt out danger to Fichte.
The failure to advance actively mankind’s dominance over nature risked a slide into the passivity that endangered the pursuit of man’s moral purpose and, by definition, his humanness.
In Fichte’s humanistic interpretation of events, Rousseau’s ‘man in his primitive state’3 was a sub-human threat to the very existence of the human race.
Freedom was not for Fichte an end in itself, or something to be found in Nature. It was certainly not a return to anything that once existed. Freedom to Fichte meant an independence from nature. Only then would there be scope for the spontaneous and creative activity, which Dante had held analogous to that of the first Creator in whose image man was made - the creative activity that distinguished man from beasts and defined the Absolute I as God. Only with such freedom ‘could a new equality arise - a uniform progress of culture in all individual men’.4
Rousseau’s reduction of humanity to ‘a race of animals’ was the threat to be confronted. After all, a bestial docility was not altogether undesirable to those who would exploit the productive capacity of such ‘free’ individuals. On this point, the Marrano Spinoza’s counter-humanist, counter-Renaissance, project comes most readily to mind.
1. Johann Gottlieb Fichte, The Vocation of the Scholar, Translated from the German by WILLIAM SMITH,1847, p.62
2. Vocation of the Scholar, p.67
3. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, ‘Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, part two’, The Basic Political Writings, Hackett, (1754) p.64
4. Vocation of the Scholar, p.46
© John Dunn.
Like Marx he believed that we were 'all Jews now' and, by his own inference, feminine, passive, unproductive, unconscious and amoral. Sickened by the world around him, Weininger committed suicide in the house where the archetypal creator Beethoven had died.