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WAS FICHTE AN ETHNIC NATIONALIST? ON CULTURAL NATIONALISM AND ITS DOUBLE

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Abstract:

Even though Fichte's Reden an die deutsche Nation (Addresses to the German Nation) arguably constitutes one of the founding texts of nationalist political thought, it has received little scholarly attention from English-speaking political theorists. The French, by contrast, have a long tradition of treating Fichte as a central figure in the history of political thought, and have given considerable attention to the Reden in particular. While the dominant French interpretation, which construes the Reden as a non-ethnic cultural nationalist text, provides a welcome corrective to those who impute unmediated ethnic nationalism to Fichte, it is ultimately flawed for missing the text's crypto-ethnic character. While Fichte officially defines nationality in terms of language and culture, his linguistic-cultural nationalism ultimately collapses into ethnic nationalism. This collapse, signalled by his appeals to Abstammung and Abkunft, is propelled by the fact that, ultimately, the appeal to language and culture is incapable of securing immortality, which is the supposed source of its motivational power for Fichte.
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