German Nationalism

Philosophers and authors Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Johann Gottfried von Herder both had very similar ideas on what it meant to be a nation and what it meant for a group of humans living in a defined area to become a nation. In order to become a nation they all had to identify themselves similarly. Both of these authors came out of a turbulent time for Germany, Fitche was writing in 1806 and von Herder was in 1784. This time period in Europe can be recognized by the nations that began to form, no longer was Europe divided into many different municipalities scattered about.
The French Revolution began just five years after von Herder wrote his Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind. As von Herder watched the years of turmoil leading up to the French Revolution, as he watched the people of France become a single body working towards a single goal he theorized the importance of nations but more importantly nationalism. He saw that a group of people who have been defined by nature, whether it be language, terrestrial setting, or race, could gain a sense of purpose when they become proud of their sense of belonging to a nation. To relate this idea to popular culture all that one has to do is look at the Super Bowl and its super fans. These people get a sense of belonging when they watch their teams accomplish great acts and support them in any way they can find, whether it be building a giant Seahawks logo on their front lawn or getting the “Patriots, Super Bowl XLIX Champions” tattooed on their chest a week before the game is even played. Meanwhile a team also benefits from such fanaticism because it bolsters their morale and provides support for their purpose. This is the exact same way that nationalism works for a nation, the people are proud to be part of their nation so they support their nation, in return, with this support, the nation can accomplish great things, which creates more pride.
Fichte followed up von Herder’s ideas 22 years later, after the French Revolution had ended but just at the beginning of Napoleon’s conquests into Germany. Fichte was now looking at a united country of France, one that had found its nationalism and was proud to be. Napoleon had occupied many of the small insignificant Germanic townships and cities with ease and forced Fichte to see the importance of a nation, both from the self defense perspective and for the over all efficiency of a territory. He argues that “Thus was the German nation placed-sufficiently united within itself by a common language and a common way of thinking, and sharply enough severed from the other peoples-in the middle of Europe, as a wall to divide races not akin ….” (Fichte), meaning that there was a clear “German Nation”. An area defined by nature, language and common culture that significantly enough that it should become a single nation, a single nation which the people recognize and take pride in. Fichte proclaims that “German states, whose separate existence was in itself contrary to all nature and reason” (Fichte), he is clearly stating an obvious importance in the states of Germany to cease to be divided. If the nation-states were to cease to be divided then, as a nation, the Germans could become more than what they were. Both of these men helped to define the meaning of nationalism and they truly helped to show its power in the formation and longevity of nations.

5 thoughts on “German Nationalism

  1. I really enjoyed how the writer was able to take the readings and show their similarities. The writer also told a lot about von Herders past and I found it very fascinating to read about. I also enjoyed how von Herders ideas were related to pop culture, which is a similar comparison to one made in class. This allows those who do not know as much about the topic to see it from another perspective.This blog post gave a sufficient amount of background that allowed me to learn more on the topic.

  2. First, Super Bowl is a nice analogy, but nationalism is much more complex when cultures, inheritages from medieval and races involved into it. Such as German states can relative easier to make compromise with France for their monarchs’ own profits or status(as Rhein confederacy, which collapsed immedately after they saw the declining tendency of France in Battle of Leipzig). Prussia benefited from the concept of nationalism obviously after Napolenic War(The concept of Kleindeutsche Lösung, left Austria to form a “pure German nation”), but it also threatened other states or municipalities by force. During the 7 years war Prussia’s 1/3 millitary upkeep are plundered from Saxony. All those things showed the complexity of nationalism especially in German states: they can fight together against one enemy, they can also stay with a different nation against their “fellow”, at last they united by millitary force and under the price as a devided Germany.

  3. I liked that you pointed out that these philosophers were arguing for a German nation state based on commonalities with other nation states (ie. France), but I think it’s important just to reiterate some of the qualities and circumstances which supported their arguments.

    You mention how becoming a nation is important for becoming more efficient and for being more powerful as a group, and while this is true and one of the main benefits of nationalism, these are not the benefits that appeal the most to the people in general. More appealing then are the prospects of the end of cultural and linguistic oppression, and the end of fighting wars for other nations or rulers. The idea of being united with like peoples rather than those simply geographically near you is a strikingly different idea for area at this time, and it is this appeals to personal and cultural preservation that would be the most encouraging prospects of uniting as a nation.

  4. I like your analogy to the Super Bowl and the idea of allegiance to sports teams. However, as one has mentioned above, there are complications that make the analogy not so simple. For example, how does one deal with New York? Both the Jets and the Giants play in the same location. That would be akin to a civil war politically. Moreover, fans likely travel and move more frequently across NFL fan zones, than people leaving and entering new countries. I appreciate the analogy though, as, for a potential future teacher – it’s a good comparison that I could make for my students. Also, no comparison or analogy is ever perfect. There will almost always be anomalies.

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