German philosopher Johann Gottfried von Herder lived during the 18th century, contributing much to the philosophy of history. Inspired by the Enlightenment, he thought rationally about the correlation between human events and history. In one of his more known works, Materials for the Philosophy of the History of Mankind, he laid the foundation for German nationalism. As western Europe began its nationalist movement, people living in central Europe (today Germany) had a difficult time grasping with the idea of a collective group under one nation. Since hundreds of people speaking different languages and having different customs lived in the region, von Herder argued that Nature brings groups of people together which eventually establishes a sense of national identity. His worked is targeted at future activists who believed in a need for establishing a nation. He believes, “active human powers are the springs of human history, and, as man originates from and in one race, so his body, education, and mode of thinking are genetic” (Halsall). Because of this, a group of individuals will establish a national identity.
Similar to von Herder, Johann Gottlieb Fichte hailed from Germany and is considered by some to be one of the Fathers of German Nationalism. Inspired by Immanuel Kant, Fichte dedicated his work to understand the mystery of human consciousness and a need to establish German nationalism. In his, Addresses to the German Nation, he states, “Those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself, long before any human art begins; they understand each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly; they belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole” (Fichte). Since this bond exists between man, a national identity needed to be establish to incorporate all who lived in a region who shared similar ideals.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Thirteenth Address, Addresses to the Gerrnan Nation, ed. George A. Kelly (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1968), pp. 19091,19394,19798.
The idea of a nation is a relatively modern concept, and it is hard to imagine the world without clearly defined national identities. However, the concept of a national identity need to be created, and it was interesting how both authors used language as the unifying element. While a common language certainly unites people, Germany was a very divided country, as numerous languages were spoken.
Language is the root of economics, politics, social structures, culture and almost every other part of a country. So, to establish a cohesive national society, a uniform language must be made. Both philosophers recognized this. They saw that the only way Germany could unite was through language.