Got another ‘final’ COVID 19 post all cued up, but let’s talk Education History!
Decided to reread Fichte’s foundational Addresses to the German Nation which you can find discussed at some length here on this blog. After having finished rereading Parish Schools and more Pestalozzi, it seemed necessary to reread with, one hopes, a deeper understanding, the work that underlies the schooling that we are enduring today.
The general rule – don’t read about somebody until you read what they have to say for themselves – having been observed here, I also started DuckDuckGoing (totally a verb) around to find further information on particular points in Fichte’s philosophy.
Aside: Severian turned me on to David Stove, the late sort of Neo Positivist Australian philosopher, who, while fundamentally as crazy as the next anti-metaphysician (also totally a word), spent his career providing the desperately necessary mockery of the pure nonsense spouted by Hegel, Kant and the whole clown car of modern philosophers. He tends to simply quote them, and holds up their own words for well-deserved ridicule. I haven’t read anything of his where he goes after Fichte, but that would be a fun ride. Ultimately, what all these lunatics and posers need to be deprived of is people taking them seriously. The only response to such nonsense is to ignore or mock them. They never should have been able to raise their heads in a legitimate university spouting such idiocy. But I digress…
One chapter in my much to be yearned for (by me, at least) education history book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” containing an account of history of the belief that the world can only be saved by schooling, that there is one right way to educate, and, once everybody is educated that way, heaven on earth will be achieved. Fichte will get a starring role; poor Pestalozzi, who never could see, or at least, never could articulate, the political ramifications of his ‘discovery’ of the one, perfect way to educate children, is mere putty in the hands of Fichte. Pestalozzi sees the (properly instructed, using his textbooks) mother as the ideal educator. Fichte loves Pestalozzi’s idea of having every student’s every school minute managed by a (state trained and certified) teacher as a reason to simply discard the family. Family is a bad influence on children; the state will of course do a much better job once mom and dad are out of the way.
I’m about 40% of the way through my rereading of the Adresses, and, yep, it’s a lot clearer this time around. This time, his fanatical confidence in human perfectibility shines through, as does how he bases all this on poetical and mystical ‘insights’, not on anything as mundane as a sensible argument. He sees 5 stages of human development, identifies Germany and the world at large as stuck in Stage 3, and a moral imperative to all right thinking German men* to do what it takes to get us to the next level.
Sort of like a video game.
Thus have we endeavoured to pre-figure the whole Earthly Life of Man by a comprehension of its purpose;—to perceive why our Race had to begin its Existence here, and by this means to describe the whole present Life of humankind: …There are, according to this view, Five Principal Epochs of Earthly Life, each of which, although taking its rise in the life of the individual, must yet, in order to become an Epoch in the Life of the Race, gradually lay hold of and interpenetrate all Men; and to that end must endure throughout long periods of time, so that the great Whole of Life is spread out into Ages, which sometimes seem to cross, sometimes to run parallel with each other:—1st, The Epoch of the unlimited dominion of Reason as Instinct:—the State of Innocence of the Human Race. 2nd, The Epoch in which Reason as Instinct is changed into an external ruling Authority;—the Age of positive Systems of life and doctrine, which never go back to their ultimate foundations, and hence have no power to convince but on the contrary merely desire to compel, and which demand blind faith and unconditional obedience:—the State of progressive Sin. 3rd, The Epoch of Liberation,—directly from the external ruling Authority—indirectly from the power of Reason as Instinct, and generally from Reason in any form;—the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness. 4th, The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification. 5th, The Epoch of Reason as Art;—the Age in which Humanity with more sure and unerring hand builds itself up into a fitting image and representative of Reason:—the State of completed Justification and Sanctification. Thus, the whole progress which, upon this view, Humanity makes here below, is only a retrogression to the point on which it stood at first, and has nothing in view save that return to its original condition. But Humanity must make this journey on its own feet; by its own strength it must bring itself back to that state in which it was once before without its own coöperation, and which, for that very purpose, it must first of all leave. If Humanity could not of itself re-create its own true being, then would it possess no real Life; and then were there indeed no real Life at all, but all things would remain dead, rigid, immoveable. In Paradise,—to use a well-known picture,—in the Paradise of innocence and well-being, without knowledge, without labour, without art, Humanity awakes to life. Scarcely has it gathered courage to venture upon independent existence when the Angel comes with the fiery sword of compulsion to good and drives it forth from the seat of its innocence and its peace. Fugitive and irresolute it wanders through the empty waste, scarcely daring to plant its foot firmly anywhere lest the ground should sink beneath it. Grown bolder by necessity, it settles in some poor corner, and in the sweat of its brow roots out the thorns and thistles of barbarism from the soil on which it would rear the beloved fruit of knowledge. Enjoyment opens its eyes and strengthens its hands, and it builds a Paradise for itself after the image of that which it has lost;—the tree of Life arises; it stretches forth its hand to the fruit, and eats, and lives in Immortality.
“Ponderous Teutonic prose” indeed. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism. You may notice the lack of that God person in the above, and the Pelagianism of his take on Man’s role in his own redemption. This could hardly be any more contrary to Luther, and, indeed, in the Addresses he does get around to damning the great reformer with faint praise. The progression is perhaps familiar: just as in America at almost the exact same time, the great Calvinist Puritan tradition of the absolute depravity of man became, almost suddenly, the Unitarian Universalist position of salvation for all, Fichte was preaching to the Germans that they must move from the depraved Third Age – “The Epoch of Liberation … the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness,” to the 4th, “The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification.”
Notice, also, the lack of any family references. We move, in Fichte’s philosophy, almost directly from the individual to Mankind as a whole, with only a brief stop with our neighbors to pick up consciousness, self-consciousness, and morality. Fichte’s whole philosophy is built upon the self-positing ‘I’ which finds self-conscious in the recognition of the ‘Not-I’. We’re on the threshold of stage 4, where peace, love, and understand will bloom everywhere, once the state supplants the family and beats a little of Fichte’s pure love of Truth into our children. Until then, we’re screwed:
I, for my part, hold that the Present Age stands precisely in the middle of Earthly Time; … In other words, the Present Age, according to my view of it, stands in that Epoch which in my former lecture I named the third, and which I characterized as the Epoch of Liberation … the State of completed Sinfulness. Fichte, Characteristics of the Present Age/Lecture 2
Surfing around for some back-up materials, found this which ties together Fichte’s 5 Ages with his plan for national education (although the author, it seems, is simply wrong about where Fichte believe Mankind stands – not in the 4th on the threshold of the 5th age, but in the 3rd on the threshold of the 4th, as stated above):
In 1804-1805, Fichte delivered a series of lectures entitled Characteristics of the Present Age (Grundzüge des Gegenwärtigen Zeitalters), in which he outlined five stages of human development. Having travelled from the primal state of noble savages in ‘the Age of Innocence’, through dark ages, absolutism, and the ‘State of Progressive Justification’, mankind was now on the threshold of ‘the state of completed justification and sanctification’. Indeed, the ideals of the French Revolution had been characteristic of the State of Progressive Justification, but to reach political nirvana it was not enough to rely on the ideals of the French, which in any case had been undermined by the conquering forces of Napoleon. So in 1807 – the year after Hegel had described seeing ‘the world spirit on horseback’ in the guise of the French emperor, and at a time when the Germans were at a historical nadir and the once all-powerful Prussia was a shadow of its former military self – Fichte proposed that the Germans had to seize the day. In fourteen addresses, delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807, Fichte asserted that the Germans had a historical role: namely that of shepherding humanity into the bliss of a cosmopolitan utopia. from Philosophy Now magazing, Matt Qvortrup’s Brief Life of Fichte
Love ‘delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807’ – man’s gotta pay the bills. Further:
Kant had argued that trade liberalisation – what he called ‘the spirit of commerce’ (der Handelsgeist) – would slowly but surely lead to a kind of brotherhood of man. Fichte agreed with Kant that the “whole race that inhabits our globe will… become assimilated into a single republic including all peoples” but he did not see free trade, let alone economic liberalism, as the path to perpetual peace. Rather, he feared that the economic competition between states would generate new enmities that would lead to war. Moreover, unlike his former mentor’s espousal of classic economic liberalism, Fichte made a case for economic protectionism and a planned economy in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Closed Commercial State, 1800). This book’s defence of social justice facilitated by government intervention is but one of the reasons it has been labelled the first systematic case for the welfare state.
The Closed Commercial State was a philosophical Rubicon for Fichte. He maintained that all people eventually would be united into a single “peoples’ republic of culture,” and here he began to consider how this would be achieved, gradually coming to the conclusion that the German people could play a pivotal role in the process of creating a cosmopolitan utopia.ibid
Marx, anyone? Since God, to Fichte, is something like the drive toward morality as expressed in Human history, Marx is pretty much all there even before Hegel picked up the baton and wrapped it in even more dense and ponderous Teutonic prose.
The Germans themselves were not yet ready to take on the burden of educating humanity. True, their language enabled them to utter deep thoughts, and so potentially to spread reason to the rest of mankind. But in order to fulfil their mission, the Germans themselves needed educating. Thus educational reform, not military strength, was Fichte’s key policy proposal. And in his Second Address he went to great lengths to explain how the aim of education was to make active and creative individuals who would “learn with enjoyment and love, purely for the sake of learning itself.” The aim was to facilitate “the capacity to spontaneously construct images that are not at all replicas of reality, but are capable of becoming models for reality.”ibid
You may also see Pestalozzi peaking through here. “The capacity to spontaneously construct images” could have come straight from any of his works. The important part for Fichte is having children spontaneously imagine and be moved to action by perfect images of their own creation – in accordance with Reason, ‘natch. He’s after, almost exactly, what John Lennon described in his execrable song: bringing into being a purely imaginary reality in accordance with Reason.
It’s easy if you try.
The point here, of course, is that this is the philosophical underpinnings of modern state schooling: schooling is the means to messianic salvation. This – the promise of an Utopia to be achieved via the state’s training of children – is what Mann and Torey Harris and the NEA at its founding were attracted to and embraced. There is no discussion of ‘the basics’ – reading, writing, and ciphering don’t and never did figure into it. It’s simply not what these folks are interested in. The plan is and has always been: get kids away from their families to form them into the new citizens of the coming paradise on earth.
Therefore, homeschoolers and other dissidents cannot be ignored or tolerated. We are heretics, keeping the enlightened from achieving Paradise! Wrong has no rights, here. Burning at the stake is too good for us. The goal, except peripherally, is not staffing factories and armies. That might be OK, as an interim step, during the period where the Vanguard must rule absolutely to usher us sheep toward the eventual Worker’s Paradise (thanks, Lenin, for clearing that up for us) – but that’s not what, in the vision of its founding light, modern compulsory state schooling is for.
* Literally, men of the male persuasion: Fichte argued that “active citizenship, civic freedom and even property rights should be withheld from women, whose calling was to subject themselves utterly to the authority of their fathers and husbands.” – Wikipedia