On the Nature of the Scholar/Lecture 8

On the Nature of the Scholar by Johann Gottlieb Fichte
Lecture VIII.. Of the Scholar as Ruler

He in whom Learned Culture has actually accomplished its end,—the attainment and possession of the Idea,—shows, by the manner in which he regards and practises the calling of the Scholar, that his vocation is to him, before all other things, honourable and holy. The Idea, in its relation to the progressive improvement of the world, may be expressed—either, first, in actual life and conduct; or, secondly, in ideas only. It is expressed in the first mode by those who, as the highest free Leaders of men, originally guide and order their affairs:—their relations with each other, or the legal condition,—and their relation to passive nature, or the dominion of reason over the irrational world;—who possess the right and calling, either by themselves or in concert with others, to think, judge, and resolve independently concerning the actual arrangement of these relations. We have to speak to-day of the worthy conception and practice of this vocation. As we have already taken precautions against misunderstanding by a strict definition of our meaning, we shall, for brevity's sake, term those who practise this calling—Rulers.

The business of the Ruler has been described in our early lectures,—and so definitely, that no further analysis is necessary for our present purpose. We have now only to show what capacities and talents must be possessed by the true Ruler,—by what estimate of his calling, and what mode of practising it, he proves that he looks upon it as sacred.

He who undertakes to guide his Age and order its constitution, must be exalted above it,—must not merely possess an historical knowledge of it, but must thoroughly understand and comprehend it. The Ruler possesses, in the first place, a living and comprehensive idea of that relation of human life which he undertakes to superintend;—he knows what is its essential nature, meaning, and purpose. Further, he perfectly understands the changing and adventitious forms which it may assume in reality without prejudice to its essential nature. He knows the particular form which it has assumed at the present time, and through what new forms it must be led nearer and nearer to its unattainable Ideal. No part of its present form is, in his view, necessary and unchangeable, but is only an incidental point in a progression by which it is constantly rising towards higher perfection. He knows the Whole of which that form is a part, and of which every improvement of it must still remain a part; and he never loses sight of this Whole, in contemplating the improvement of individual parts. This knowledge gives to his inventive faculty the means of accomplishing the improvements he may devise; the same knowledge secures him from the mistake of disorganizing the Whole by supposed improvements of individual parts. His eye always combines the part with the Whole, and the idea of the latter with its actual manifestation in reality.

He who can not look upon human affairs with this unfettered vision is never a Ruler, whatever station he may occupy,—nor can he ever become one. Even his mode of thought, his faith in the unchangeableness of the present, places him in a state of subordination, makes him an instrument of him who created that arrangement of things in the permanence of which he believes. This frequently happens; and thus all times have not actual Rulers. Great spirits of the fore-world often rule over succeeding Ages long after their death, by means of men who in themselves are nothing, but are only continuations and prolongations of other lives. Very often too this is no misfortune; but those who desire to penetrate human life with deeper insight ought to know that these are not true Rulers, and that under them the Age does not move forward, but rests,—perhaps to gain strength for new creations.

The Ruler, I said, thoroughly comprehends that relation of human life which he undertakes to superintend; he knows the essential character and idea of all its component parts, and he looks upon it as the absolute will of God with man. It is not to him a means to the attainment of any end whatever, nor in particular to the production of human happiness; but he looks upon it as in itself an end,—as the absolute mode, order, and form in which the human race should live.

Thus, in the first place, is his occupation ennobled and dignified in accordance with the nobility of his mode of thought. To direct his whole thoughts and efforts,—to devote his whole life to the accomplishment of such a purpose as this:—that mortal men may fall out as little as possible with each other in the short span of time during which they have to live together, that they may have somewhat to eat and drink, and wherewithal to clothe themselves, until they make way for another generation, which again shall eat, and drink, and clothe itself,—this business would appear to a noble mind a vocation most unworthy of its nature. The Ruler, after our idea of him, is secure against this view of his calling. Through the idea of human life by which he is animated, the Race among whom he practises his vocation is likewise ennobled. He who has constantly to keep in view the infirmities and weaknesses of men, who has to watch their daily course, and who has frequent opportunities of observing their general meanness and corruption, and who sees nothing more than these, cannot be much disposed to honour or to love them; and indeed those powerful spirits who have filled the most prominent places among men, but have not been penetrated by true religious feeling, have at no time been known to bestow much honour or respect upon their Race. The Ruler, after our idea of him, in his estimate of mankind looks beyond that which they are in the actual world, to that which they are in the Divine Idea—to that which therefore they may be, ought to be, and one day assuredly will be; and he is thus filled with reverence for a Race called to so high a destiny. Love is not required of him; nay, if you think deeper of it, it is even a kind of arrogance for a Ruler to presume to love the whole Human Race, or even his own nation,—to assure it of his love, and, as it were, make it dependent on his kindness. A Ruler such as we have described is free from such presumption: his reverence for humanity, as the image and protected child of God, does more than overpower it.

He looks upon his vocation as the Divine Will with regard to the Human Race; he looks upon its practice as the Divine Will with regard to himself—the present individual; he recognises in himself one of the first and immediate servants of God,—one of the material organs through which God enters into communion with reality. Not that this thought excites him to vain self-exaltation;—he who is penetrated by the Idea has in it lost his personality, and he has no longer remaining any feeling of self, except that of employing his personal existence truly and conscientiously in his high vocation. He knows that it is not of himself that he has this intuition of the Idea and the power which accompanies it, but that he has received them; he knows that he can add nothing to what has been given him except its honest and conscientious use; he knows that the humblest of men can do this in the same degree as he himself can do it, and that the former has the same value in the sight of God which he himself has in his own station. All outward rank and elevation above other men which have been given, not to his person but to his dignity, and which are but conditions of the possession of this dignity, these will not dazzle him who knows how to value higher and more substantial distinctions. In a word: he looks upon his calling, not as a friendly service which he renders to the world, but as his absolute personal duty and obligation, by the performance of which alone he obtains, maintains, and justifies his personal existence, and without which he would pass away into nothing.

This view of his calling as the Divine Will in him, supports and justifies him before himself in an important difficulty, which must very often occur to him who conscientiously follows this vocation, and makes his step firm, determined, and unwavering. In no circumstances indeed should the individual, considered strictly as an individual, be sacrificed to the Whole; however unimportant the individual, however great the Whole and the interest of the Whole which is at stake. But the parts of the Whole must often be placed in peril on account of the Whole; peril by which, and not by the Ruler, its victims are selected from among individual men. How could a Ruler who recognises no other destiny for the Human Race but happiness here below, and looks upon himself only as the kind guardian of that happiness,—how could he answer before his conscience for the danger and possible sacrifice of any individual victim, since that individual must have had as good a claim to happiness as any other? How could such a Ruler, for example, answer before his conscience for determining upon a just war,—a war undertaken for the support of the national independence threatened either immediately or prospectively? for the victims who should fall in such a war, and for the manifold evils thereby inflicted on humanity? The Ruler who sees a Divine Purpose in his vocation stands firm and immovable before all these doubts, overtaken by no unmanly weakness. Is the war just?—then it is the will of God that there should be war; and it is God's will with him that he resolve upon it. Whatever may fall a sacrifice to it, it is still the Divine Will that chooses the sacrifice. God has the most perfect right over all human life and human happiness, for both have proceeded from him and both return to him; and in his creation nothing can be lost.—So also in the business of legislation. There must be a general law, and this law must be administered absolutely without exception. The universality of the law cannot be given up for the sake of one individual who thinks his case so peculiar that he is aggrieved by the strict enforcement of the law, even although his allegation may have some truth in it. Let him bring the small injustice which is done to himself as an offering to the general support of justice among men.

The Divine Idea, ruling in the Ruler, and through him moulding the relations of his age and nation, now becomes his sole and peculiar Life;—which indeed is the case with the Idea under any form in which it may enter the soul of man; he cannot have, nor permit, nor endure, any Life within him except this Life. He comprehends this Life with clear consciousness as the immediate life and energy of God within him, as the fulfilment of the Divine Will in and by his person. It is unnecessary to repeat the proofs which we have already adduced in general, that through this consciousness his thought is sanctified, transfigured, and bathed in the Divinity. Every man needs Religion,—every man may acquire it,—and with it every man may obtain Blessedness;—most of all, as we have seen above, does the Ruler need it. Unless he clothe his calling in the light of Religion, he can never pursue it with a good conscience. Without this, nothing remains for him but either thoughtlessness and a mere mechanical fulfilment of his vocation, without giving account to himself of its reasonableness or justice; or if not thoughtlessness,—then want or principle, obduracy, insensibility, hatred and contempt of the Human Race.

The Idea, thus moulded on the Divine Life, lives in his life instead of his own personality. It alone moves him,—nothing else in its room. His personality has long since disappeared in the Idea,—how then can any motive now arise from it? He lives in honour, transfused in God to work His Eternal Will,—how then can fame, the judgment of mortal and perishable men, have any significance for him? Devoted to the Idea with his whole being,—how can he ever seek to pamper or to spare himself? His person,—all personality,—has disappeared in the Divine Idea of universal order. That order is his ever-present thought; only through it does he conceive of individual men: hence neither friend nor foe, neither favourite nor adversary, finds a place before him; but all alike, and he himself with them, are lost for ever in the thought of the independence and equality of all.

The Idea alone moves him,—and where it does not move him, there he has no life, but remains quiescent and inactive. He will never rouse himself to energy and labour merely that something may come to pass, or that he may gain a reputation for activity; for his desire is not merely that something may come to pass, but that the will of the Idea may be accomplished. Until it speaks, he too is silent; he has no voice but for it. He does not respect old things because they are old; but as little does he desire novelty for its own sake. He looks for what is better and more perfect than the present; until this rises before him clearly and distinctly,—so long as change would lead only to difference, not improvement,—he remains inactive, and concedes to the old the privilege it derives from ancient possession.

In this way does the Idea possess and pervade him without intermission or reserve, and there remains nothing either of his person or his life that does not burn a perpetual offering before its altar. And thus is he the most direct manifestation of God in the world.

That there is a God, is made evident by a very little serious reflection upon the outward world. We must end at last by resting all existence which demands an extrinsic foundation, upon a Being the fountain of whose life is within Himself; by allying the fugitive phenomena which colour the stream of time with ever-changing hues to an eternal and unchanging essence. But in the life of Divine Men the Godhead is manifest in the flesh, reveals itself to immediate vision, and is perceptible even to outward sense. In their life the unchangeableness of God manifests itself in the firmness and intrepidity of human will which no power can force from its destined path. In it the essential light of the Divinity manifests itself in human comprehension of all finite things in the One which endures for ever. In it the energy of God reveals itself, not in directly surrounding the Human Race with happiness—which is not its object—but in ordering, elevating, and ennobling it. A Godlike life is the most decisive proof which man can give of the being of a God.

It is the business of all mankind to see that the conviction of the Divine Existence, without which the very essence of their own being passes away into nothing, shall never perish and disappear from among them;—above all, it is the business of the Rulers as the highest disposers of human affairs. It is not their part to bring forward the theoretical proof from human reason, or to regulate the mode in which this proof shall be adduced by the second class of Scholars; but the practical proof, by their own lives, and that in the highest degree, devolves peculiarly upon them. If firm and intrepid will,—if clear and all-comprehending vision,—if a spirit of order and nobility speak to us in their conduct, then in their works do we see God face to face, and need no other proof:—God is, we will say,—for they are, and He in them.