After reading this article you will learn about the bio, life and political ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte.
Life of Johann Gottlieb Fichte:
Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born in 1762 and died in 1814. He was a short-lived philosopher of Germany in whom German idealism found its fertile soil of growth.
In the history of Western philosophy Fichte is not a very well known and influential figure. But his thought occupies an important place in the whole arena of Western philosophy. He was the brilliant disciple of Kant and his philosophical pre-eminence is worthy to be noted.
“Fichte’s dialectic subtleties” write dunning “was more refined than Kant’s and his criticism and modification of the latter’s metaphysics made a sensation in the learned circle of Germany”.
An idealist philosopher Fichte is not at par with Hegel but his philosophy is not to be neglected. His philosophy relating to politics centred on selected and practical problems. What he saw around him he thought about, and recorded his feelings.
We know that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was a form of “hobby” of European rulers to be involved in war; and in Fichte’s time there a war between Prussia and France and in this war Prussia’s loss and disasters were quite heavy.
This situation created a deep mark in the mind of Fichte and he formed a negative view about war. So far as religion is concerned his views incurred the displeasure of authority. His attitude on politics was also not acceptable to the then authority. The result was that he was forced to leave the post of professor of the University of Jena.
Maxey says that Fichte started his academic career as a disciple and interpreter of Kant. But he did not agree on all points to Kant’s philosophy. He contended that the strictly subjective activity of the mind is itself the cause of all our ideas about the external world and, hence, the mind alone is real. The individual mind is merely part of the universal and absolute mind—which is nothing but God.
Political Ideas of Johann Gottlieb Fichte:
The two works of Johann Gottlieb Fichte contain his views regarding politics, Closed Commercial State and Theory of State. Clear influence of Rousseau and Kant is to be found on his political thought as well as philosophy.
In his earlier life he was influenced by the law of nature, the natural rights, the individual’s freedom, sovereignty of the people. Particularly the last mentioned issue was borrowed from Rousseau.
In his later years he changed his view regarding political issues. He, however, did not build up a complete system of political science.
In the above-noted two works Fichte insisted on the unity, integrity and power of the national state. He also strongly argued for the extension of the power of such -a state: He wanted to see a powerful state encompassing almost all the aspects of the individual’s life. Fichte’s ideas ultimately led to the advent of state socialism and fascist doctrines.
Dunning says that Fichte’s political thought and ideas start with the rational self- consciousness of the individuals. He assumes that rational consciousness of all individuals creates a system of social regulation which in German is called Recht.
In Fichte’s system of thought this rational consciousness plays an important part. Consciousness of one leads to think about the problems of other and in this way the freedom of all men is limited. Fichte says that only consciousness creates social regulation and experience and education have no part to play.
How is the unity arrived at? Following Rousseau, Fichte says that this is achieved through the social contract.
The social contract is thus the basis of rapprochement among the individuals of the community. But he did not regard the social contract as the cause of the origin of state. In Fichte’s opinion, the contract is a process by “which the private will and general will are synthetically united.” The terms of the synthesizing process are those of Rousseau’s contract.
Though Johann Gottlieb Fichte does not use the contract as an explanation of the origin of state, it has been accepted as an explanation of the structure of rights and duties within the state. Three distinct agreements are involved in the social pact.
The first is the property contract, by which each individual agrees with all others on what property, rights and liberties he is to have and what he is to cede to others. Fichte does not recognize natural rights.
This agreement must be made individually and in person with all others as individuals—the other party. Fichte includes the whole sphere of individual freedom under the concept “property” which he defines as rights of free action in the world of sense. The boundary of each one’s property is fixed by the terms of contract.
The second type of agreement is protection contract which is a sequence of the first .In this contract each individual agrees with others to protect their specified property and all other rights, on the condition that they will likewise protect his. The first contract was a “negative will” because everyone promised from invading the right and property of others. This negative will is now converted into a positive will.
The third type of contract is union contract. This secures and protects the two previous contracts and, in union with them, forms the fundamental contract of state organization. The effect of this is that each individual becomes a part of an organized whole and melts into one with it. This union contract completes the social pact and constitutes a sovereign.
In his earlier life Fichte held that it could never be the function of the state to make men happy, wealthy and God willing. People cannot expect that the state will protect the property and rights of individuals.
It has numerous other functions and the state should perform them. But in later years of his life he changed his opinion about the functions of the state. Summing up the views of Fichte regarding the functions of state Dunning says – “To give to each for the first time his own, to install him for the first time in his property and then first to protect him in it”.
His changed position puts him nearer to the utilitarian philosophers. It is the duty of the state to see that citizens are capable of getting sufficient pleasure and happiness.
A large number of political philosophers felt that it is the primary duty of the state to protect the property of citizens and Fichte was no exception. Fichte was a contemporary of Industrial Revolution and capitalism was the product of this revolution.
It is quite natural that Fichte will have sympathy for capitalist class. He also could not avoid the influence of religion. It has been observed that he was to some extent a capitalisminded philosopher.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte was also influenced by the prevailing conditions of Germany. He believed that each state should be economically self-sufficient. The state should distribute its population among different classes such as farmers, merchants, artisans, producers etc.
The state must take care that the total national incomes is proportionately shared by all people of the state. The critics are of opinion that this suggestion of Fichte is simply an imagination and naturally has no practical importance.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte viewed the concept of national state from a different angle. He was opposed to free trade. Free trade was the chief cause of economic rivalry and competition and, finally, of war.
So a national state should always try to avoid free trade. If it is at all unavoidable then the state should take the leading part. To be economically exclusive and self-sufficient was of precisely the same significance politically as to be exclusive and independent in legislation and judicature.
So political and economic exclusiveness was essential for the national state. The idea of national state was active in his mind. Once he said, “Certain parts of the earth’s surface, with their inhabitants are evidently determined by nature to form political units. River, sea and mountains determine the natural boundaries of state. These natural boundaries are important for national state.”
In his later years, Fichte propagated certain socialistic doctrines. It was the duty of the state to guarantee the material existence and comfort of all citizens. He categorically announced that the government must provide every individual with work and it must also see that each person is getting his share of national wealth.
Johann Gottlieb Fichte offers us a consistent analysis of government and constitution. Laws are the expression of the sovereign will of the people. He did not separate executive organ from the judiciary. Both the executive and judicial functions were to be performed by the same group of persons who were to be representatives.
The government might be monarchic, aristocratic, or hereditary. But people as a whole could never act as administrators. The implication is that he never thought that common people could work as good administrators.
In other words, he thought of a separate class of administrators. This brings Fichte nearer to Plato. To ensure that the sovereign will of the people as embodied in the laws forming the constitution should not be overridden by the government, Fichte conceived an institution named the ephorate that he regarded as indispensable to a rational constitution.
The right of final judgment upon the conduct of the government must inhere necessarily in the people as a whole. The cause of Prussia’s defeat in war with Napoleon was, according to Fichte, the lack of political consciousness of the people.
So he appealed to the people to arouse their sense of patriotism and raise their political consciousness. German unity, he believed, was to be achieved and maintained at any cost.
As every man has a mission in life, so a nation has a mission and that can never be achieved when the nation faces disintegration. Every nation must do something for the progress of civilization.