Fichte and the Jews

Very often I find reading Fichte annoying because his rhetorical strategies are often somewhat obnoxious (see Science of Knowledge, for one, but on the upshot it’s often amusing at the same time).  This morning I came across this comment by Fichte in his  essay “A State within a State:”

…the Jewish nation excluded itself…from the German nation by the most binding element of mankind—religion…It (the Jewish nation) separates itself from all others in its duties and rights, from here until eternity.

Here comes the part that caused me to raise my eyebrows slightly, but very dramatically:

I see absolutely no way of giving them [the Jews] civic rights, except perhaps if one chops of all of their heads and replaces them with new ones, in which there would not be one single Jewish idea.

While I think it’s fairly well known that Fichte denied that Judaism had any moral value and for the most part, harbored a traditional, run of the mill antisemitic attitude,  I think this is a pretty nice straw man:  portray Jewish religion as fundamentally inflexible in order to pave the way for political forms of antisemitism.  Enter Wagner?


7 thoughts on “Fichte and the Jews

  1. This isn’t at all really related to these scurrilous quotes, but I was wondering if you or Mikhail still has that “Fichte Symposium” AVI video posted back in May 2009, the one that was released about the Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften’s completion of the Fichte Gesamtausgabe. If so, I’d really appreciate having it (re)posted or possibly even e-mailed to me,

    • We decided to declare a temporary moratorium on all things Harman – it’s sucking everyone’s energy and undermines the reputation of this otherwise excellent blog…

      I did like the new nickname – The Wolf – really?

  2. This [Fichte] reminds me of Rousseau’s “help” with the constitution of Corsica and speech he supposedly written for Paoli who pronouncing the independence of Corsica in 1755 basically said that those who didn’t want to enter this awesome new republic should just leave… now! I wish I had remembered the source, but I don’t. The idea being, however, that in this imaginary social contract, there’s no place of dissenters, so ultimately it’s not really a free contract.

    Doesn’t have the direct implication for your Fichte quote, but sounds very much like “Jews, it’s their our fault for not being able to fit in with the new awesomeness that is formulated specifically to exclude them and all potential dissenters! What are you going to do?”

    • I have been thinking about this Fichte thing and decided to pursue it a bit. Of course, one need only read Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” to get an analysis of theological underpinnings of the civic inequities of Jews in 19th century Germany, but I stumbled across _German Idealism and the Jew_ by Michael Mack. Broadly, it looks like the book traces a Jewish response to the Idealist deflation of materiality and attempts to unpack two important issues: first, an account of the antisemitism of German idealist philosophy is given by gesturing to how exactly pseudo-theologies/sciences featured prominently in discussions of Jewish “otherness,” from Kant and Hegel to Wagner (an idealist, really?). The rest of the book seems to be concerned with unearthing the counter-narratives cooked up from Mendelssohn to Heine to Graetz to Cohen, and finally, Rosenzweig and Benjamin, all of which try to challenge this secularized Protestant caricaturization of Jews/Judaism. What’s interesting thus far is Mack’s account of Kant (Ch 1). In this version, Kant takes on Spinoza’s secular interpretation of ancient Judaism–that is, as a coherent set of civil proscriptions– which he “transcendentalizes.” In turn, we get this idea of Judaism as an “immutable religion without a religion.” What I have found interesting is Mack’s broader discussion of Kant’s move within the setting of a German Enlightenment, which, due to a variety of reasons opened up an easier path for the formation of a pseudo-religion. In fact, he accuses Kant and Hegel of harboring a bit of a Marcionist position. Anyway, if I have time I will write more on this, but I just got an ILL copy of Bruce Rosenstock’s brand new _Philosophy and the Jewish Question_ which focuses on Rosenzweig and Mendelssohn. Interesting stuff.

      • Sounds like a good book (Mack), I should take a look. Kant’s ethics is becoming more and more frustrating to explain to students – the more you talk about it, the less it makes sense, it seems. Or maybe I’m just getting old and tired of all things Kantian – I need a new schtick…

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