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.

Nationalism and La Marseillaise

Nationalism, according to Halsall, is the “most successful political philosophy of the modern era”. In order to be considered a nation, a state or group of states must have a language, tradition, or common history that binds the people, which, as stated by von Herder, must be honored by the ruler. Also, a nation is considered more legitimate in its basis than other forms of government labeled “theocracies”, “empires”, and “dynastic rights”. As a German himself, von Herder recognizes Germany’s characteristics to compile those which resemble a nation, but discerns that they are unique, “peculiar”, and different from typical attributes of a nation. Von Herder takes pride in the distinct character of his country, and believes that Germany is unparalleled in its originality and its archetype.

France distinguishes itself as a nation in a manner different from Germany. At the time of the French Revolution, nationalism is powerful in France. After having overthrown the monarchy and establishing more rights and freedoms for its people, France’s pride is at an all-time high. The French Revolution inspires the poem and national anthem “La Marseillaise”, which can be considered the embodiment of France’s status as a true nation. Through the writing of this poem, and later, France’s adoption of it as its national anthem, a type of patriotism is born. Written in French with lyrics speaking of a common history of the people, de Lisle legitimizes France as a nation. However, the national anthem is not the only factor that validates France’s standing as a nation. When Napoleon Bonaparte takes control of France, he establishes a strong and powerful army. With the foundation of an army, a nation becomes more legitimate. It can wield more power and express its character through its actions. Furthermore, the unification of a large group such as an army creates a strong identity for a country. Although he did not willingly leave his position as military leader, Napoleon strengthened France’s identity among the European nations and increased its status as a nation.

Questions to consider: Because Napoleon’s conquests were spread so far and wide, did it delegitimize France’s status as a nation? In order to be considered a nation, does a country’s population and/or geographic size need to be under a certain limit? As a nation increases in size, does it lose its identity, its respect for common history? Do greater populations result in more dialects and languages, eliminating the common language that binds a nation’s people?