Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ideological Archeology: Flunking Fichte (V)

Continued from Part IV: Heckling Hegel

"Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished."

Meet the Professor from hell, Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), Head of Philosophy and Psychology Dept. of the Prussian University of Berlin, in 1810.

He blamed all but God for the German defeat against Napoleon Bonaparte: corrupt royals, the nobility, the decadent influence of reason, and a succession of weak governments that undermined religion as a moral force. He wanted the German losers to emulate the burghers of the Middle Ages, who made the Holy Roman Empire great because they weren't individuals, but sacrificed to the common good.

The emphasis in Fichte's educational system was on compulsion, like Kant pushing duty for its own sake and the elimination of self-interest; obedience, the crush of free will, prohibition, fear for punishment, religious immersion--pupils must become 'fixed and unchangeable machines' and 'links in the eternal chain of spiritual life in a higher social order.'

Fichte applied Kant to education, as generations of continental school children, until well within the last century, may have been aware of, although perhaps not consciously so.

"Under proper guidance, the student will find at the end that nothing really exists but life, the spiritual life which lives in thought, and that everything else does not really exist, but only appears to exist."
A belated reaction to Fichte's will-crushing - but in full accordance with the extremes of the Hegel dialectic - was provided by Frankfurt School inspired anti-authoritarian education of the seventies of the last century. The Head Master from hell has become the guidance counsellor called Bill.

- Four German Idealists: Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Schleiermacher,
Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, and Ernst Moritz Arndt (undated Woodcut) -
As National Socialism differed from Marxism in the national versus the international context, intellectuals of the Counter-Enlightenment movement exerted German, ethnic subjectivism. In Fichte's case, on education:
"Only the Germans, the salvation of Europe from the Napoleontic Enlightenment, are capable of true education."
In Fichte we have a good example of Left and Right Socialism as mirroring ideologies, not as opposing social systems. Like so many of the anti-modernist movement, he was undoubtedly a man of the Right, but pursuing what would today be seen as a Leftist subject: egalitarian public education.

First elected President of the Weimar Republic, the Social Democrat Friedrich Ebert in his inaugural speech in 1919 stressed the relevance of the Rightist Socialist, Fichte:
“In this way we will set to work, our great aim before us: to maintain the right of the German nation, to lay the foundation in Germany for a strong democracy, and to bring it to achievement with the true social spirit and in the Socialistic way. Thus shall we realize that which Fichte has given to the German nation as its task.”
The Head Master from hell may well have inspired Marx to view school as a microcosm of Utopian society.

- This post wraps up this series Ideological Archeology on the founders of the Counter Enlightenment or anti modernism, the precursor to Postmodernism. -
Update: Dr Sanity: "Ayers and his Cohorts are what's Wrong with Education Today"

Related dossiers

- "Education"
- "Postmodern Ravages"


RatePoint Business Reviews