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Fichte and National Socialism

  • F. W. Kaufmann (a1)

Next to Hegel and Nietzsche, Fichte is the German philosopher most frequently blamed as one of the principal inspirers of the National Socialist ideologies of state despotism and the superiority of the German people. Indeed, it is not difficult to find in Fichte's work any number of passages which might be interpreted in such a way as to corroborate these views. In the writings of his middle period, around 1800, Fichte arrives at a despotism of reason which in its practical application might be even more consistently restraining than the rule of our modern dictators. In his programmatic speeches for the restoration of the German nation, he ascribes to his people a divine mission which has shocked many of his interpreters. Therefore we cannot be surprised that historians who, in accordance with the demands of their profession, lay more stress on the effects of thoughts and actions than on the intentions which motivate them, attribute to Fichte a good share of responsibility for the ideology of the National Socialist party and its hold on the German people. Yet these historians are right only with regard to the external form, while the intended aims of the two systems of thought are diametrically opposed to one another.

On the whole, Fichte is a moral idealist whose principal concerns are the political and inner freedom of the individual, the right and duty of the individual to contribute his best to the welfare and the cultural progress of his nation, the independence of all nationalities, social security, and an acceptable standard of living for every human being. These demands are based on a genuine respect for the dignity of man and the desire to contribute to the rule of humanitarian values in all human relations. The National Socialist, on the contrary, is fundamentally an egotistic materialist, a ruthless Herrenmensch, with a deep-rooted contempt for freedom, equality, and all humanitarian values.

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1 Cf. Viereck, Peter, Metapolitics (1941), and Kohn's, Hans review in The Nation, Oct. 11, 1941.

2 Cf. also Das System der Rechtslehre.

3 Cf. Hitler's speech of Jan. 30, 1942.

4 Die Staatslehre, 2. Abschnitt.

5 Philosophie der Maurerei.

6 Die Staatslehre, 2. Abschnitt.

7 Aus dem Entwurfe zu einer politischen Schrift im Frühlinge 1813.

8 For further detail, see Engelbrecht, H. C., Johann Gottlieb Fichte; A Study of His Political Writings with Special Reference to His Nationalism (Columbia University Press, 1933), pp. 9 ff and 160 ff.

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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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