- Fichte's Addresses to the German Nation Reconsidered ed. by Daniel Breazeale and Tom Rockmore
Interpretation always takes place in the present tense. It is worth reminding ourselves of this, because few philosophical texts or treatises have suffered the rise and fall of the vagaries of their own contemporary Weltanschauung as Fichte's Addresses to the German Nation. Few texts in history have been simultaneously so overestimated and underestimated in their impact and importance as Fichte's Addresses; and therefore few texts can be said to be so misunderstood—and so need in of reassessment. This collection, Fichte's Addresses to the German Nation Reconsidered, edited by Daniel Breazeale and Tom Rockmore, precisely seeks to fill this lacuna. The interpretative fate of the Addresses has always hinged on the watchword of 'nationalism' and the time-horizon that shapes a given interpreter's view of it. For instance, it is clear that a cry for national unity at a time when Germany had not yet achieved nationhood, and was suffering from foreign occupation, has a far different ring to it than a cry for nationalism in the shadow of the Third Reich. And, although this collection of essays was composed well before our own witness of the current worldwide resurgence of nationalism—in the form of Brexit, the U.S. election of Donald J. Trump, and the general rise of nationalism across much of Europe—it is nevertheless important to work to remain self-conscious of our own interpretive horizon.
This collection begins, as it should, with an excellent, well-researched, historical introduction to Fichte's Addresses. Here, Breazeale rightly thematizes the erratic trajectory of the Addresses reception. They were published in 1808, just months before the end of Napoleon's French occupation. They are based on a series of "Sunday lectures" given by Fichte in 1806. Their reception has indeed been uneven. If the initial lectures were charged with a rebellious excitement—especially given that a local bookseller had recently been executed by Napoleon for treasonous pamphlets—the Addresses were, in turn, given little to no credit by state representatives at the official constitution of German nationhood. And this ebb and flow is repeated yet again. And again. If Fichte's obituary acknowledges him as a "profound thinker," with the "greatest service to the fatherland" (10), in the twentieth century, following the rise of Nazism, the fortunes of the Addresses are again reversed. And, as a consequence, Breazeale rightly describes the fate of their reception since World War II as "toxic material" (12). And it is precisely the task of this collection, then, to reassess the possible hyperbole of this "toxic" label and to judiciously reconsider the value of Fichte's Addresses.
The collection of thirteen essays embraces the full range of material in Fichte's Addresses—covering not only the topic of nationalism, but also culture, language, education, ethics, and, of course, the science of philosophy or Wissenschaft. Not surprisingly, the bulk of these essays confront, in various guises, Fichte and the question of nationalism. A key problem for [End Page 548] interpreters has long been to establish an interpretative rapprochement between Fichte's earlier, Kantianinspired sense of freedom and liberal values, and his later turn toward more authoritarian leanings. Breazeale, Rainer Schäfer, Gabriel Gottlieb and Rockmore all work towards resolving this seeming conflict between the earlier and later Fichte in various ways, while Marina F. Bykova and Arnold Farr consider Fichte's unique approach to nationalism more directly. Most essays display scholarly rigor and innovation in their approach.
The erratic historical reception of Fichte's Addresses as mere nationalist fodder is, in large part, caused by peoples' failure to actually read them. And, as many essays here show, the Addresses offer insight into a wide range of philosophic concerns. A number of essays here explore Fichte's philosophy language, education, and culture. For example, Bykova, rejects the nationalist reading outright, in favor a practical-moral reading; Sila Özkara shows the conflict between Fichte's theory...