In Fichte’s The Closed Commercial State, money was the crux not only of historical understanding but also of historical action. The political act that inaugurates a rational arrangement of commerce, and hence the rational state, must strike at the heart of its principal opposition - at money itself.
If individual freedom is to be achieved then it is the control over money that must be achieved. In this Fichte was at one with the thinking of the Renaissance state of Spain that had famously expelled the Jews in 1492, an act which indirectly led to the Spinozist philosophical determinism from which Fichte spent a lifetime escaping. That is why Fichte’s hypothetical state would prohibit the use of gold or silver as money and close itself off from all international trade.
Fichte’s The Closed Commercial State was a speculative exercise in the Renaissance tradition of More’s Utopia, a picture of what the world ought to be like if we abandon the political ‘consensus’ imposed by the controllers of trade and money.
The ‘consensus’ narrative, drawing heavily upon Adam Smith, held that trade and its network of mutually advantageous transactions, leads to peace and harmony instead of conflict.
That ‘consensus’ was and remains at odds with experience. Trade produces war, inequality and unemployment, from which it follows, according to Fichte, that trade must be prohibited.
Fichte’s radicalism stemmed from his inversion of Spinozist philosophy, rejecting the concept of the Substance, making the Absolute I the presupposition instead.
With Fichte's inversion we pass from passivity to activity, from slave to ruler. Fichte pitted man as creator, doer and producer against Spinozist determinism, necessitarianism and fatalism. Man’s purpose is to act upon the world, change it and perfect it, i.e. 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.
It follows from this that any distraction from man’s moral vocation is a reversion to Spinozist determinism. After all, with trade there is a preoccupation with profit and ongoing subsistence. The lives of individuals are determined by forces external to themselves, principally the controllers of money supply (a truth later masked by democracy), quite apart from the economic forces, which take on a life of their own.
Fichte’s politics were at one with his idealist philosophy. In the context of his philosophy, to embrace trade is to renounce freedom, the Absolute I, God and man’s cosmic role in bringing moral order into the world and beyond.
This is what drove Fichte to postulate the closed commercial state, a controlled economic environment that would free individuals to follow their true cosmic vocation.
Fichte’s distrust of international markets made him an early anti-globalisation activist. As such his ideas remain relevant as an alternative to the ‘consensus’ narrative of the liberal-Marxist-capitalist nexus and its underpinning Spinozism.
© John Dunn.