Postmodernism, Part 16: Fichte’s School of Nationialism

What is postmodernism? Is it a problem?  The following continues a series of posts explaining postmodernism.  It is based on the excellent Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault, by Prof. Stephen Hicks (with support from Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy.)

Previous posts:

Enlightenment and Darkness

Rousseau’s Revolutionary Politics

Right Collectivism


Marxist postmodernism seeks to overthrow modernism.  Modernism’s political philosophy proposes reason, individualism, liberal democracy, and free markets.  Postmodernist philosophy is based on the metaphysical nihilism of (Nazi) Martin Heidegger.

Postmodernism’s radical left politics don’t flow naturally from Heidegger’s subjectivist philosophy.  Postmodernism’s leftist political philosophy is explained by twentieth century Marxists’ crisis of faith in the face of undeniable Marxist catastrophe.  Postmodernists took refuge in an earlier totalitarian collectivist, Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

jean-rousseauJean Rousseau

Rousseau’s political philosophy features socialism, totalitarianism, and unthinking religious fervor.  He was a Counter-Enlightenment totalitarian collectivist, who damned reason and civilization, sacrificed the individual to the state, called for intolerant state religion, despised political and economic liberalism, and embraced dictatorship.  His ideas inflamed the French Revolution and gave rise to Napoleon.

Napoleon gave Germany an epic case of post-traumatic stress disorder.  Napoleon gained power and trounced Germany.  He ended the Holy Roman Empire, occupied German territories, and imposed foreign values on them.  Germans blamed the Enlightenment for invading the dark forests of deeply rooted German traditions.

Kant gave Rousseau’s totalitarian collectivism a German spin: feudalistic militarism.  Life is suffering.  Morality is selfless duty unto death.  Nature uses human warfare for human progress.

Johann Herder (Kant’s student) disagreed with Kant on human progress.  Herder was a romantic who espoused multiculturalism, moral relativism, and German progress (not universal progress, like Kant) .  He was a patriot and nationalist who warned against infectious foreign ideas.  His own nationalism proved contagious.

Napoleon’s foreign occupation set German nationalism aflame.

Fichte’s School of Nationalism

Johann Fichte, was the father of German nationalism.  He (like Herder) was Kant’s student (but parted ways with Kant over ultimate reality).  Fichte espoused public education – for totalitarian collectivist indoctrination.  He called on Germans to reclaim German freedom (against foreign ideas).

Fichte (Kant’s student) parted ways with Kant over ultimate reality.  Kant had trashed the idea of knowing objective reality (leaving only subjective reality).  Fichte trashed ultimate reality, altogether.  He argued that subjective reality (Ego) was ultimate reality.  (Any other “reality” exists only because Ego supposes it.)

johann-fichteJohann Fichte

Fichte was the father of German nationalism.  Ego (Fichte’s subjective ultimate reality) was German.  “To have character and to be a German,” Fichte taught, “undoubtedly mean the same thing”.  (If Ego’s subjective reality is ultimately reality, then this is subjectively “true”).

Fichte espoused public education for collectivist indoctrination.  Rousseau had proposed public education for social indoctrination.  Fichte expanded on this, arguing that education must “mold the Germans into a corporate body” that joins “all its individual members by the same interest”.  He wrote, “Free will is the first mistake of the old system”.  He argued that education should completely destroy freedom of will, and produce unthinking obedience.

Fichte espoused public education for totalitarian indoctrination.  Education should make each of us a “fixed and unchangeable machine,” he said, “a link in the eternal chain of spiritual life in a higher social order” (very medieval).  He taught that education must replace individualism with nationalism and a classless society.

Fichte called on Germans to reclaim German freedom (against foreign ideas).  The Germans “bravely resisted the oncoming world dominion of the Romans,” he said, “Freedom to them meant just this: remaining Germans … with the original spirit of their race”.  To him, freedom is about nations (not individuals).


Fichte’s ideas profoundly influenced Germany, nationalists, and collectivists (Left and Right).  Fichte (unlike Herder) was racist and antisemitic.

In unfettered subjectivist philosophy, anything goes.  Nothing flows naturally from subjectivist philosophy – not individualism, not collectivism, not nationalism, not racism.  Subjectivist philosophy is entirely subjective (truth, morality, everything).  That is the context of Fichte’s racism, antisemitism, totalitarianism, everything.  (To the subjectivist, why not?)


Collectivists turn “freedom” into slavery.  Next: Part 17, Hegel – Freedom is Slavery.