Fichte, Johann Gottieb

Fichte, Johann Gottieb
   Johann Fichte, a German nationalist philosopher, was born in the duchy of Saxony on May 19, 1762. In 1780, Fichte entered the University of Jena as a theology student. In 1791 he traveled to Königsberg to Immanuel Kant’s lectures. While there, Fichte’s Critique of All Revelation was published; however, the printer accidentally identified it as Kant’s work. As a consequence it gained a wide readership and made Fichte’s reputation when the mistake was corrected. It also led to a professorship at the University of Jena in 1793.
   While at Jena, Fichte began to discuss the French Revolution with private student groups who favored French political ideas. Fichte’s admiration for the French Revolution led him to defend it in “Contributions to the Rectification of Public Opinion Concerning the French Revolution,” despite its excesses. Between 1796 and 1798, Fichte published his legal and ethical ideas in Basis of Natural Right and System of Ethics. He claimed that monarchy would soon disappear and be replaced by democratic government. His “Jacobinism” and his atheistic reputation led to his dismissal from his teaching position in 1799. In the spring of that year, Fichte moved to Berlin where he began to change from an enthusiast of French revolutionary ideas into a German patriot. That same year he published the Vocation of Man; the next year he published The Closed Commercial State, which engages the idea of an economic autarchy.
   Fichte left Berlin for Königsberg after Prussia was defeated by Napoleon in the 1806–07 campaign; however, he returned to a French-occupied Berlin to deliver his “Addresses to the German Nation.” They mark the beginning of German nationalism. In them he urged the creation of a national educational system that would teach patriotism. From 1810 until 1814, he taught at the University of Berlin as a professor of philosophy. He died on January 27, 1814, from typhus contracted while serving as a volunteer in a hospital during a local epidemic.
    Breazeale, Daniel, and Tom Rockmore, eds. Fichte: H istorical Contexts/ Contemporary Controversies. New York: Prometheus Books, 1994;
    Fichte, Johann Gottlieb. Addresses to the German Nation. Edited by George A. Kelly. New York: Harper Torch Books, 1968.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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