Thursday, October 2, 2008

What the Fi@#te? (Part 3)

In his "Some Lectures concerning the Scholar's Vocation", Fichte writes:
You can see how important it is not to confuse society as such with that particular, empirically conditioned type of society which we call 'the state.' Desire what a very great man has said [Kant], life in the state is not one of man's absolute aims. The state is, instead, only a means for establishing a perfect society, a means which exists only under specific circumstances. Like all those human institutions which are mere means, the state aims at abolishing itself. The goal of all government is to make government superfluous. Though the time has certainly not yet come, nor do I know how many myriads or myriads of myriads of years it may take...there will certainly be a point in the a priori foreordained career of the human species when all civic bonds will become superfluous. This is hat point when reason, rather than strength or cunning, will be universally recognized as the highest court of appeal. I say "be recognized" because even then men will still make mistakes and injure their fellowmen thereby. All they will then require is the goodwill to allow themselves to be convinced that they erred and, when they are convinced of this, to recant their errors and make amends for the damages. Until we have reached this point we are, speaking quite generally, not even true men [1].
Is Fichte an anarchist? He got into a bit of trouble for saying these things, in part because some conservatives in his audience claimed he was asserting "in ten or twenty years there will be no more kings or princes" [2]. Commentators on Fichte often take these conservative interpretations to be misrepresentations. Breazeale writes, for instance, "though this rumor was obviously designed to undermine Fichte's position with the court, he in fact enjoyed the firm support of the duke and his advisers, who regarded the rumor as a transparent piece of malicious slander" [3]. Goethe quickly caught wind of these rumors and in response Fichte sent him the manuscript of his lectures and published them so as to counter once and for all the claim he was denouncing kings and princes.

But it seems to me the claim is much stronger than most have taken it, though this might be the result of some distance from a certain contexts. Fichte says there will one day be no civic bonds, government will not be needed, and since the state only plays a functional role, its function ought to be geared toward undermining its own necessity. Marx thought something like his. I guess it's not really a form of anarchism insofar as Fichte does designate some role for the state, but it sure sounds like the form of life he has in mind is some kind of anarchism.

Slight change of subjects now: I, like most of you, have been spending too much time following the present political and financial crisis in the US. I have nothing interesting to say about it, and there are plenty of good blogs covering the issue, but this Thomas Friedman line in a recent column at The New York Times did make me laugh:
I've always believed that America's government was a unique political system--one designed by geniuses so that it could be run by idiots. I was wrong. No system can be smart enough to survive this level of incompetence and recklessness by the people charged to run it.
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[1] Fichte, "Some Lectures concerning the Scholar's Vocation" in Fichte Early Philosophical Writings, trans. and ed. Daniel Brezeale (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1988) pp. 156-7.

[2] ibid., 139.

[3] ibid.

1 comment:

M said...

Hi, Gabriel. I use to read your blog and this is the first time I write you. I am from Brazil and I work on a research about Hegel. This paragraf from Fichte, about the end of the State, has always amazed me. Despite many authors talk about Fichte as an apologist of political centralization, here he seems not to assign such a great role to the State in present and future society. Unfortunately Fichte has been distinguished only for the late "Addresses to the Germam Nation". I think we should pay more attention to his early writings. Are you aware of any oder passages from Fichte where he conceptually develops this so-called essential diference between state and society?