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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Peroration of the ‘Addresses to the German Nation’
By Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814)
 
IN these addresses the memory of your forefathers speaks to you. Think that with my voice there are mingled the voices of your ancestors from the far-off ages of gray antiquity, of those who stemmed with their own bodies the tide of Roman domination over the world, who vindicated with their own blood the independence of those mountains, plains, and streams which under you have been suffered to fall a prey to the stranger. They call to you:—“Take ye our place; hand down our memory to future ages, honorable and spotless as it has come down to you, as you have gloried in it and in your descent from us. Hitherto our struggle has been deemed noble, great, and wise; we have been looked upon as the consecrated and inspired ones of a divine world-plan. Should our race perish with you, then will our honor be changed into dishonor, our wisdom into folly. For if Germany were ever to be subdued to the Empire, then had it been better to have fallen before the ancient Romans than before their modern descendants. We withstood those and triumphed; these have scattered you like chaff before them. But as matters now are with you, seek not to conquer with bodily weapons, but stand firm and erect before them in spiritual dignity. Yours is the greater destiny,—to found an empire of mind and reason; to destroy the dominion of rude physical power as the ruler of the world. Do this, and ye shall be worthy of your descent from us.”  1
  With these voices mingle the spirits of your later fathers, of those who fell in the second struggle for freedom of religion and of faith. “Save our honor too,” they call. “To us it had not become wholly clear what we fought for; besides our just determination to suffer no outward power to control us in matters of conscience, we were also impelled by a higher spirit, which never wholly unveiled itself to our view. To you this spirit is no longer veiled, if you have vision for the spiritual world;—it now regards you with high clear aspect. The confused and intricate mixture of sensuous and spiritual impulses shall no longer be permitted to govern the world. Mind alone, pure from all admixture of sense, shall assume the guidance of human affairs. In order that this spirit should have liberty to develop itself, and rise to independent existence, our blood was shed. It lies with you to give a meaning and a justification to the sacrifice, by establishing this spirit in its destined supremacy. Should this result not ensue, as the ultimate end of all the previous development of our nation, then were our struggles but a vain and forgotten farce, and the freedom of mind and conscience for which we fought an empty word, since neither mind nor conscience should any longer have a place among us.”  2
  The races yet unborn plead with you. “Ye were proud of your forefathers,” they cry, “and proudly ranked yourselves in a noble line of men. See that with you the chain is not broken. Act so that we also may be proud of you; and through you, as through a spotless medium, claim our descent from the same glorious source. Be not you the cause of making us revile our ancestry as low, barbarous, and slavish; of causing us to hide our origin or to assume a foreign name and a foreign parentage, in order that we may not be, without further inquiry, cast aside and trodden under foot. According as the next generation which proceed from you shall be, so shall be your future fame: honorable, if this shall bear honorable witness to you; beyond measure ignominious, if ye have not an unblemished posterity to succeed you, and leave it to your conqueror to write your history. Never has a victor been known to have either the inclination or the means of passing a just judgment on the subdued. The more he degrades them, the better does he justify his own position. Who can know what great deeds, what excellent institutions, what noble manners of many nations of antiquity may have passed away into oblivion, because their succeeding generations have been enslaved, and have left the conqueror in his own way and without contradiction to tell their story?”  3
  Even the stranger in foreign lands pleads with you, in so far as he understands himself, and knows aright his own interest. Yes! there are in every nation minds who can never believe that the great promises to the human race of a kingdom of law, of reason, of truth, are vain and idle delusions, and who therefore cherish the conviction that the present iron age is but a step towards a better state. These, and with them all the after-ages of humanity, trust in you. Many of them trace their lineage from us; others have received from us religion and all other culture. Those plead with us by the common soil of our Fatherland, the cradle of their infancy, which they have left to us free; these, by the culture which they have accepted from us as the pledge of a higher good,—to maintain for their sakes the proud position which has hitherto been ours, to guard with jealous watchfulness against even the possible disappearance from the great confederation of a newly arisen humanity of that member which is to them more important than all others; or that when they shall need our counsel, our example, our co-operation in the pursuit and attainment of the true end of this earthly life, they shall not look around for us in vain.  4
  All ages,—all the wise and good who have ever breathed the air of this world of ours, all their thoughts and aspirations towards a higher good,—mingle with these voices and encompass you about and raise suppliant hands towards you; Providence itself, if we may venture so to speak, and the Divine plan in the creation of a human race,—which indeed exists only that it may be understood of men, and by men be wrought into reality,—plead with you to save their honor and their existence. Whether those who have believed that humanity must ever advance in a course of ceaseless improvement, and that the great ideas of its order and worth were not empty dreams but the prophetic announcement and pledge of their future realization;—whether those, or they who have slumbered on in the sluggish indolence of a mere vegetable or animal existence, and mocked every aspiration towards a higher world, have had the right,—this is the question upon which it has fallen to your lot to furnish a last and decisive answer. The ancient world, with all its nobility and greatness, has fallen—through its own unworthiness and through the might of your forefathers. If there has been truth in that which I have spoken to you in these addresses, then it is you to whom, out of all other modern nations, the germs of human perfection are especially committed, and on whom the foremost place in the onward advance towards their development is conferred. If you sink to nothing in this your peculiar office, then with you the hopes of humanity for salvation out of all its evils are likewise overthrown. Hope not, console not yourselves with the vain delusion that a second time, after the destruction of an ancient civilization, a new culture will arise upon the ruins of the old from a half-barbaric people. In ancient times such a people existed, fully provided with all the requisites for their mission; they were well known to the cultivated nation, and were described in its literature; and that nation itself, had it been able to suppose the case of its own downfall, might have discovered the means of renovation in this people. To us also the whole surface of the earth is well known, and all the nations who dwell upon it. Do we know one of all the ancestral tribes of modern Europe, of whom like hopes may be entertained? I think that every man who does not give himself up to visionary hopes and fancies, but desires only honest and searching inquiry, must answer this question, No! There is then no way of escape: if ye sink, humanity sinks with you, without hope of future restoration.  5
 
 
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