The Beginnings of German Nationalism

The Romantic period following the Enlightenment and the French Revolution was characterized by a push back against the rational reasoning championed by many Enlightenment thinkers. Johann Gottlieb Fichte tried to inspire his fellow Germans with his “Addresses to the German Nation” in 1806. He wrote “those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitude of invisible bonds by nature herself” ((Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Thirteenth Address, Addresses to the German Nation, ed. George A. Kelly (New York: Harper Torch Books, 1968), pp. 190­91,193­94,197­98.)) which highlights his argument that the bonds of language and culture are stronger than political boundaries or forced occupation. This is a similar argument that Paul Halsall makes in his introduction to Johann Gottfried von Herder’s “Materials for the Philosophy of Mankind” where he states that most nations are developed around a single language and that new peoples are incorporated in by being forced to speak that central language as well ((Johann Gottfried von Herder, Materials for the Philosophy of Mankind, 1784.)).

Johann Gottlieb Fichte was a German philosopher who lived from 1762 until 1814, meaning that he lived through much of the Enlightenment thought and ideals being put into place in the American Revolution and the French Revolution. He wrote his “Addresses to the German Nation” in 1806 when the French, under Napoleon, occupied Germany. This event likely inspired him to write these nationalistic pieces and to go on to be considered one of the fathers of German nationalism. He criticized Napoleon’s use of religious conflict to divide the German nation-states and his use of German soldiers in his army. Fichte wrote in an inflammatory manner, intended to educate the German people about the tactics that the French were using to divide the nation-states and to inspire a sense of belonging to something larger than their individual village.

Fichte was able to use historical context and the feelings of people living in an occupied territory to make an emotional argument for nationalism and for uniting as a larger German people. Both Fichte and von Herder highlighted the importance of language to creating a cohesive nation-state, which was important as this is one of first times when a nation-state becomes a realistic concept, and is no longer separated into solely a political state or an ethnic or cultural nation.

In conclusion, did Napoleon’s conquest of these areas accelerate the unification of Germany? In other words, is being occupied the most effective method to get people to come together by uniting against a common enemy?

Redefining Adolf Hitler (Just a Little Bit)

Adolf Hitler is one of the most controversial and despised individuals in human history, considered by some to be an anti-Christ. Certainly, he most definitely did some awful things; he started wars with other countries, which caused WWII, and he perpetuated the Holocaust. However, there are certain parts of his story that get left out in popular knowledge. For one thing, Hitler himself was not even born in Germany, but rather, the declining Austro-Hungarian Empire. Because of the state of the Habsburg Dynasty, Hitler, along with many youths like him, placed more support in adjacent Germany, with whom they felt a kinship. Therefore, his early years instill in him a huge amount of nationalist ideals. Among his other early struggles included poverty and living as a bohemian, differences with his father, and rejection from art school twice. It was not until WWI that he turned his life around, in which was a huge war hero. He was awarded the Iron Cross, First Class – an extremely high honor for his rank. Hitler valued his war experiences quite highly, but was shocked by Germany’s “defeat.” Looking for answers, perhaps it is not too surprising that when going undercover to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (the precursor to the Nazi Party), he became attracted to their ideas. In fact, many of the ideas that the party perpetuated were similar to what he grew up hearing and living by.[1]

Aside from the context, Hitler appears to be similar in many ways to that of his popular image. Many of the points made in the pamphlet follow common knowledge: he was anti-Semitic, he was pro-Aryan race. However there were a few odd parts in his writing that really stood out. First, Hitler held a very strong view on education, and judging from the extent to which he goes into it on Point 20, he intended to make sure it went well. In thought, this could be the precursor to the Hitler youth, but at least it demonstrates a priority in equal education opportunity not held by many today. It was also intriguing to read about his high placement on physical education and gymnastics. In many ways, it’s a sneaky way of preparing students/children for war, similar to many Communist Chinese programs during the Mao era. The reading relates to past ideas as well, such as Fichte’s belief in shared culture leading to nationalism and borders, Herder’s belief that different groups should not mix, and Mussolini’s point that the state should mean everything (statist), with the “people” being an extension of that state.

[1] “Adolf Hitler.” Wikipedia. Accessed March 31, 2015.

Fichte’s new Germany

Johann Gottlieb Fichte, was a Germany Philosopher, and reformer, who was also a great supporter of the French Revolution. Fichte would have been considered a liberal at the time who wanted to see the lower classes rise up, and take a portion of prosperity for themselves. His ideals came from the area of Europe in which he lived. Fichte was a resident of Berlin, which was not part of one specific nation. Berlin was much like an Italian City-State during the Renaissance because it was not always under control of one nation or kingdom.

The Germany that we know today did not exist in anyway what so ever. The region that is called Germany today was a collection of over thirty different states that were never autonomous with each other. Napoleon was the first man to unite the German states into a specific body, the Confederation of the Rhine. This action started to bring German speakers together.

This increase in the idea that people who had the same language, customs, and cultural identity could be a nation was new, but one that soon became very popular with German citizens of the many different states. Fichte’s proto-nationalism was widely read, and his writings, and the writings of many other early 19th century thinkers became the “bibles” of the great nation builders such as Otto Von Bismark in Germany, and Garibaldi in Italy.

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.

German Nationalism

Nationalism is defined as ” devotion and loyalty to one’s own country” ( and it was the main focus in Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s piece To the German Nation. Fichte was a German philosopher who lived from 1762 to 1814 and developed many of his ideals from analyzing Kant and his writings. ( He aimed for the ears of the common German man/woman to rally together and show unity and pride in their respective nation. Once a supporter of France and the Revolution, Fichte changed his stance after Napoleon overrode Germany. Fichte wrote, “Those who speak the same language are joined to each other and have the power of continuing to make themselves understood more and more clearly.” (Fichte) He spoke against “the deceptive vision of a universal monarchy” and attempted to convince the German population to dig deeper and embody the ideals of their nation as a whole. Nationalism is an extremely important factor in the rise of any nation and began to escalate in this time period for the Germans.

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.

Fichte – To the German Nation

Johann Gottlieb Fichte began his argument by outlining what makes a natural border for a people. He determined that language was a natural border that defines a people because they can communicate and grow. Germany was united by a common language and way of thinking. He then argued that foreign countries intentionally divided us the German peoples for their own benefit. Germany was unsuspecting and naively fell for their tricks. Fichte claimed that foreign countries manipulated Germany for their own selfish benefit. Some people were considering a universal monarchy as a remedy but Fichte exclaimed that monarchy was the very opposite of what the Germans needed to unify. Perhaps he too saw the repeated mistake the French made or making progress, then undoing it by reinstating a monarch. Instead he wanted to let natural borders reunify the German people.  Otherwise, the nation established would not hold up to the test of time.

Fichte emphasized that the intention of foreign countries was to manipulate unsuspecting Germans and turn them against one another for their own selfish benefit. However, it is difficult to believe that all the blame ought to be on the foreign countries. Maybe the foreigners did have selfish intentions, but they were more likely meant to benefit the foreigners less than to malign Germans. It just happened that Germans suffered from their gains. Also, Germans should have realized. Therefore, Germans were not as united as Fichte claimed in the first place. Were natural borders like language and common ways of thinking truly determinant of a people, Germans would not have been so susceptible.

Fichte, To the German Nation

I chose the first passage of Johann Gottlieb Fichte’s To the German Nation. He was a great patriot and believed that it was important that the German population embrace their culture. As a reformer and supporter of the French Revolution, he had nationalist ideals and strongly believed that language and history bind a country together.

In the second line 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.” This relates to the topic of nationalism that we have been discussing in class. The people of a country are bound together by a common language, and although different dialects may emerge, they are still united by this factor. By saying “they belong together and are by nature one and an insuperable whole” reinforces the fact that although different groups, factions or regions of a population are created, in the end they all share the same history and background. Another line reads, “men dwell together-and, if their luck has so arranged it, are protected by rivers and mountains-because they were a people already by a law of nature which is much higher.” Every country has a history that is shared amongst its people. Even though they may go through different experiences, and at times may be divided, their common history and language unites them and allows men to overcome these differences.

Wilhelm, Bismarck, and Fichte on Austria

Fichte, Wilhelm and Bismark all had similar ideas regarding the unification of Germany; their ideas of why and how to do that varied, however. Fichte wrote about how Germany was divided by foreign imperialists who failed to see and value the unity of the German people under one state. He believed that the primary reason to seek German unification was to unify the German people, not to bolster the power of the German Empire or that of Prussia. He simply wanted to unify the German people. He wrote,“it is not because men dwell between certain mountains and rivers that they are a people, but, on the contrary, men dwell together-and, if their luck has so arranged it, are protected by rivers and mountains-because they were a people already by a law of nature which is much higher.” The German people had been divided and needed to be reunited according to a higher power.

Wilhelm had different reasoning for why he wanted to go to war with Austria and reunite Germany. He wanted to wage war in order to unite Austria with the German Empire, to the dismay of Bismarck. Wilhelm initially wanted to unite the German people under his crown by peaceful means: “And may God grant that We and our successors on the imperial throne may at all times increase the wealth of the German Empire, not by military conquests, but by the blessings and the gifts of peace, in the realm of national prosperity, liberty, and morality.” Once he began to gain power, however, he sought a less peaceful means to an end. The acquisition of land was not even the primary motive; Wilhelm and his generals primarily wanted Austria to submit to German hegemony. Bismarck feared “that the king and his advisors would be intoxicated by the brilliant victory over Austria and would wish to press on, and perhaps lose much in the end.”