Spinozism was analogous to an early form of Marxism, sharing the same Judaic and kabbalistic roots. This made the young student Fichte a proto-‘Marxist’.
Upon reading Kant, he revolted against what he judged to be his own youthful error, turning against the materialist monism of Spinoza, advocating instead an idealist monism as the basis of a Renaissance humanism.
Having once been convinced of the truth of determinism, especially as articulated in Spinoza's Ethics, the struggle to free himself from a deterministic view of the world remained the major motive force throughout his subsequent life and writings.
Whereas Spinozist passivity was devoid of active moral purpose, Fichte totalised morality, which meant man’s purpose is to act upon the world, change it and perfect it; to change what is into what ought to be. The vocation of man is a moral one, which is to transform nature and bring it into accord with his ideals. The world exists so that man can express those ideals and bring a moral order into being.
Even so, to act upon the world was even more than a moral purpose for Fichte, it was by definition what it meant to be human, even divine. Fichte sometimes referred to the concept of the Absolute I as God and at other times as pure rational and spontaneous activity.
From this standpoint, to hold to a Spinozist passivity was to expunge the Absolute I, or even bring about the death of the incarnated God.
The preservation of humanity’s moral destiny against the threat of deterministic genocide was therefore the duty of everyone who considered himself human.
Failure to inculcate the benefits of culture into each member of society served not only to dehumanise those individuals, but also to endanger the human race as a whole. This destruction of man was the fear that Fichte expressed in The Vocation of the Scholar.
We wish to give society a member, and we make a tool; we wish to have a free fellow-workman in the great business of life, and we create an enslaved and passive instrument ; we destroy the man within him, so far as we can do so by our arrangements, and are guilty of an injury both to him and to society. (Vocation of the Scholar)
In order to counter the dehumanising influence of Spinozism, Fichte contended that cultural cohesion must be total, demanding a moral commitment from everyone.
It is the duty of every one, not only to endeavour to make himself useful to society generally; but also to direct all his efforts, according to the best knowledge which he possesses, towards the ultimate object of society, - towards the ever-increasing ennoblement of the human race; that is, to set it more and more at freedom from the bondage of Nature... (Vocation of the Scholar)
It was a societal commitment that passed down the generations, offering to man the keys to Paradise.
That which men call Death cannot interrupt my activity; for my work must go on to its completion, and it cannot be completed in Time; - hence my existence is limited by no Time, and I am Eternal: - with the assumption of this great task, I have also laid hold of Eternity. (Vocation of the Scholar)
Fichte postulated the conditions under which the human race would best pursue its moral destiny.
He spelt out a specific, all‐transforming, intervention into history, advocating a socialist utopia that emphasised a shared language, culture and moral destiny.
Fichte’s Renaissance philosophy and pilgrimage to Paradise led to a revived Renaissance geo-politics of common language and economic autarky.
© John Dunn.