Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind

Johann Gottfried von Herder was a German philosopher associated with the Enlightenment. He wrote the article, “Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind” in 1784, and he discussed the idea of nationalism. Paul Halsall provided an introduction to this article. There have been different types of nationalism, such as cultural pride, …right to self-government, and …national superiority” (Halsall 1)

He established the central ideas of nationalism, which are that people can be defined as having a “common history, language, and tradition” and that a nation “has a unique claim to be considered a legitimate political basis for sovereignty” (Halsall 1). In general, the people of nations do not necessarily consider themselves as members of a given nation. They are more aware that they belong to a smaller group, such a family or a town whereas nationalism is in a broader sense.

For France, the concept of nationalism was difficult because most residents of France did not speak French. Ultimately, a French national identity was created by having all people learn to speak French. For French thinkers, an nationalistic France was not complicated because France had been established as a united state. However, for German thinkers, the idea of nationalism was more difficult because heterogenous groups of people were interspersed. For example, people had different religions, languages, and traditions. THe idea of nationalism can be created throughout language because “to deprive a people of its speech is to deprive it of its one eternal good” (Halsall 2).

How do you think that the United States establishes its own sense of nationalism and how does this compare to the idea of nationalism in France during the French Revolution?

German Nationalism

A German philosopher and supporter of the French revolution, Johann Gottlieb Fichte wrote his series of addresses to the German Nation in 1806. During this time, France was under the rule of Napoleon who had set about on different conquests across Europe, Germany included. The French invasion of Germany caused Fichte to think twice about his feelings towards the French and the French revolution and force the German nation to ask themselves what it truly means to be German.

Fichte’s address to the German nation is more of a persuasion as he explains the ways in which the German people need to embrace their own nationality and defer away from the French. Fichte goes about this by stating “Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself” (Fichte 1). Continuing this statement, he argues that people of the same country have a similar understanding and they belong together, becoming an “inseparable whole” (Fichte 1). The problem however, is that the whole becomes disrupted and confused when others, the French, try and interfere. Fichte states that the French have taken advantage of the Germans, pillaging their villages and using their men to fight in wars. Rather than accept the French into the German nation, Fichte argues for the Germans to unite and form their own nationality.

Foreign Entities

In his article, Nicholas II said that there was, “a great struggle against a foreign enemy who has been endeavouring for three years to enslave our country.” But what foreign enemy was he talking about? What foreign enemies could he possible have seen meddling in Russian affairs? My theory is that by using the word “foreign”, he was referring to the new alien presences that sought to influence Russia from the inside. This could easily include any of the political parties that were rising up (and being suppressed) within Russia at the time.

Foreign Entities

In his article, Nicholas II said that there was, “a great struggle against a foreign enemy who has been endeavouring for three years to enslave our country.” But what foreign enemy was he talking about? What foreign enemies could he possible have seen meddling in Russian affairs? My theory is that by using the word “foreign”, he was referring to the new alien presences that sought to influence Russia from the inside. This could easily include any of the political parties that were rising up (and being suppressed) within Russia at the time.

Nicholas II and Abdication

Change!  In the statements made on March 15, 1917, Nicholas II realized that the pressures from the people of Russia had reached a boiling point.  He felt that he had one option, to abdicate the thrown and leave it to his brother.  He stated “We have recognized that it is for the good of the country that we should abdicate the Crown of the Russian State and lay down the Supreme Power.  Not wishing to separate ourselves from our beloved son, we bequeath our heritage to our brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail Alexandrovich…” ((Nicholas II abdication speech, March 15, 1917)).  Nicholas II’s statement about abdicating the thrown were important for several reasons.  First, he recognized the fact that people knew he could not keep the Russian state floating.  Years before his abdication, he had lead Russia into one debacle after another.  Internationally, he had Russia’s backwardness exposed when Russia was humiliated in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905.  Years later, Russia was exposed again with culminating defeats in World War I.  Domestically, he failed to solve the food shortages and failed to respond to calls for reforms from the Russian people.  Second, he placed more emphasis on the Russian state keeping a Tsardom than listening to the demands of the Russian people.   Nicholas II believed that the only change the Russian state needed to make was to have a different leader in charge.  However, the decision to transfer power to his brother only added fuel to the coming revolution, along with his past history of refusing to make reforms for the benefit of the Russian people.  Had he really cared about the Russian people, he would have created reforms which would have allowed for the people to have a say in decision making.  Do you think there was a point of no return for Nicholas II?  And if so, when did he cross that point in which he, and the idea of Tsardom were doomed?  Or was Nicholas II doomed as a result of previous Tsars?

Abdication and The Provisional Government

By 1917, the Russian war effort was categorized as a disaster.  Food shortages, terrible army living conditions, and trouble at home away from the front left the people of Russia desperately searching for a scapegoat.  The citizens found the perfect scapegoat in their Tsar Nikolai II. Once the Russian army began to crumble under German forces, Tsar Nikolai II was named commander in chief of the army, and began The Great Retreat. As Russian morale dissipated, Tsar Nikolai II stepped down and named his brother, Grand Duke Mikhail, the new Tsar.  In the article, “The Abdication of Nikolai II”, the explanation of his abdication was filled with glorified speech about their powerful nation and it’s heroic victory. The people of Russia were told it was time to “abdicate the Crown of the Russian state and lay down the Supreme Power.”  Unfortunately rather than take on a new form of government, a second Tsar, the brother of the former, was placed in power. With an “elected” legislative body, the Duma, at his side, there was an appearance of representation of the people. The Abdication was a call upon the nation to govern themselves through the representatives in the Duma. The people of Russia did not have as much of a say in the operations of their country as they believed.  The Tsar himself selected the representatives. The Duma was given a set of eight principles to follow, ranging from amnesty to military rights.  The closing sentence of “The First Provisional Government” is a strange ending to a declaration of trust, “[The Duma] has no intention whatsoever of taking advantage of the military situation to delay in any way the carrying through of the reforms and the measures outlined above.”  While the Duma declares it has no intention of halting the measures to replace the Tsar, it is clear that they are willing and able to use the military for whatever is necessary.  While setting up the Duma and filling it with representatives gave the people of Russia a sense of control, the elected body was a facade for the Tsar to hide behind.  By selecting a preferred cabinet, did the Tsar take away power from the population?

Nikolai and the Abdication

The language used in Nikolai II’s abdication says quite a bit about the man himself. Though he led Russia through a period of strife and turmoil, he uses clever writing and unclear statements to try to avoid being blamed for any of Russia’s issues.

Right from the start, Nikolai is trying to throw blame off of himself by saying, “We” before using his actual name. This promotes the idea that he was not solely responsible for the strife of the Russian people. Following this, in the second paragraph he says, “…it pleased God to send Russia a further painful trial.” when referring to the February Revolution and the unhappiness of the Russian people. He uses this sentence immediately after he spoke of Russia struggling against a powerful enemy in a bloody war, associating the nation of Russia struggling militarily against a hated foe with the “internal troubles” that had begun in Russia. This clearly throws the blame onto the revolution that is forcing his abdication.

Next, he states that the people must, “…conduct [the war] at all costs to a victorious end.” This subtly implies that if the people continue to do that which he began, they will be victorious, and it also implies that the losses that incurred in the war are not due to his leadership or decisions. He continues this by saying that, “The cruel enemy is making his last efforts and the moment is near when our valiant Army… will finally overthrow the enemy.” This clearly implies that Russia is not struggling in the war at all; instead, it tells the reader that the Russian military is nearing victory and that the war will be won because of the leadership of Nikolai.

These are some of the many examples of deceptive language that Nikolai uses in his abdication letter so that he may absolve himself of blame and escape from punishment by the Russian people.

Why abdication?

Nicholas II abdicated the Crown and appointed his brother, Grand Duke Michael, to be his successor (( Abdication of Nikolai II, March 15, 1917 )). However, Michael agreed to “accept the Supreme Power” only in case it was the will of the nation. ((Declaration from the Throne by Grand Duke Mikhail, March 16, 1917)) The Provisional Government had been established to serve Imperial needs before the moment people decided on the country’s new form of government. At the very beginning of its’ work new “rulers” made a few important decisions: amnesty, freedoms, abolition of restrictions based on nationality and religion, etc. ((Izvestiia, 3 March 1917.)) But why did it happen? Was that necessary?

Of course, Nicholas II made a fatal mistake by shooting into people who went to the Winter Palace. But was it necessary to leave the Throne while the country was participating in the World War? He probably knew that his brother was not going to agree being the Emperor, so why did he do that and not just gave more power to the State Duma and restricted his own? I tried to reconstruct the possible logic.

Imagine that you’re the ruler of the country, who just lost all his trust from his nation by shooting into his people, loosing the war, etc. You have a brother, whom population loves more. He says he doesn’t want to rule the country. Now you have three choices.

The first one is remain on your Throne and wait if the dissatisfaction lowers, for example, with some good news from the battlefield. But that’s going to be very dangerous if your people decide to help you understanding that it’s high time to leave.

The second one is to restrict your power and give more to some representative organ, in particular, State Duma. In this case the fundamental idea of Russian Monarchy – Ablsolutism – is lost. You and your royal family hardly will be able to return the power back ever again.

And finally, you have your brother, who speaks as if he won’t accept the Crown. But actually it could be a kind of “cheap talk” ((In game theory, cheap talk is communication between players which does not directly affect the payoffs of the game.)). Because, as he gets all the power, the future of his nation is in his hands and he probably won’t let the country to have no leader at such a hard time. If population ask him for becoming a new Emperor, he possibly accept it. And, in any case, Michael is going to face the same choice: either to rule, to restrict his power or to give the Throne to the next in line for it. Why not try?

So, summarizing all written above, I came to the conclusion that Nicholas had chosen, probably, the option which costed him and his family less among the other alternatives at that moment of time. What this decision resulted to for the country? We’ll learn soon.

The First Provisional Government

Russia was going through great turmoil in the year of 1917. Pressure was increasing drastically for the Russian tsar, Nikolai II. The people of the nation demanded change and Nikolai could not provide it, drastic change had risen in the years before, culturally and socially. The people of Russia felt great pressure from the way things were being handled; the war had brought economics issues as well as a drastic loss of casualties. The abdication of Nikolai II was a move forward to the future where many thought life would prosper and the First Provisional Government was a critical/crucial opportunity to move forward into the future and to push forward the change that had began to rise years before. The first provisional government was truly beneficial to the social need at the time, Although the First Provisional Government only lasted about eight months, could have it been what the nation needed if it had ran longer, was the future of Russia on the right track with this kind of authority and government. This new government did offer what the people needed; it offered the type of change and innovation to a new way of life. The first cabinet to represent the public guaranteed freedom of speech, amnesty, the removal of restrictions on class, religion, and nationality, arrangement for a Constituent Assembly, a substitution for a people’s militia, and universal and equal elections. The continuation of the First Provisional Government could’ve opened many different doors to the people of Russia as well as a new and different future.

A Supportive and Integrated Revolution

The French Revolution was in itself, a catalyst for political and cultural change. The classes; clergy, nobles, and third estate were amongst a ruler that had no interest in creating change that benefited all. Thus, the third estate and other groups banded together to influence the changes in their society. These changes were a necessity to bring about the new political and cultural views that were seen in this new society, from a new calendar system to the way individuals wore their clothing. These individuals wanted no reminder of what oppression was before them, they only wanted to alter their culture for future generations to come.

Robespierre argued in “The Cult of the Supreme Being”, that this revolution attempted “to totally transform human society in every way”. His piece instilled in the people, more of the will to fight by believing in a higher power, no matter what religion an individual followed. The same argument goes “La Marseillaise”, as the writing in this French national anthem allows an individual to hone in on their own experiences and express a sense of pride for what they may be fighting for. In this case the third estate saw to it to take a stand on what they thought was right. Moreover, inverting the power system was a great shift in control for the third estate, since they were the minority and became the majority. The core concept of equality became a more integral part of the French society. This French revolt was a classic example of a strong catalyst for a necessary change.

Questions to Consider:

1.) What would it take for the minority to overthrow or influence the majority?( i.e What other lingering factors must a one group do to influence the other?)

2.) What examples of revolt, depicted in the French Revolution do we see in a more modern society?