The Closed Commercial State: Perpetual Peace and Commercial Society from Rousseau to Fichte
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This book presents an important new account of Johann Gottlieb Fichte's Closed Commercial State, a major early nineteenth-century development of Rousseau and Kant's political thought. Isaac Nakhimovsky shows how Fichte reformulated Rousseau's constitutional politics and radicalized the economic implications of Kant's social contract theory with his defense of the right to work. Nakhimovsky argues that Fichte's sequel to Rousseau and Kant's writings on perpetual peace represents a pivotal moment in the intellectual history of the pacification of the West. Fichte claimed that Europe could not transform itself into a peaceful federation of constitutional republics unless economic life could be disentangled from the competitive dynamics of relations between states, and he asserted that this disentanglement required transitioning to a planned and largely self-sufficient national economy, made possible by a radical monetary policy. Fichte's ideas have resurfaced with nearly every crisis of globalization from the Napoleonic wars to the present, and his book remains a uniquely systematic and complete discussion of what John Maynard Keynes later termed "national self-sufficiency." Fichte's provocative contribution to the social contract tradition reminds us, Nakhimovsky concludes, that the combination of a liberal theory of the state with an open economy and international system is a much more contingent and precarious outcome than many recent theorists have tended to assume.
droit et de jurisprudence, 1940); and L’état commercial fermé, ed. Daniel Schulthess (Lausanne: L’Age d’homme, 1980). 1 2 Introduction pivotal development of Kant’s model of perpetual peace. This book shows how Fichte redefined the political economy of the Kantian ideal and extended it into a strategic analysis of the prospects for pacifying modern Europe. Fichte was a theorist of the social contract who radicalized that tradition by demanding that the state secure the citizen’s right to work.
were able to resolve all present and future conflicts through compromise alone. The moment judgment and coercion came into play, trust could not survive, and disputes would be impossible to resolve without uniting individuals by placing them under a common judge.113 Human beings were obviously not a perfectly moral species, nor were they in a position to trust one another so deeply as to resolve disputes without ever having recourse to judgment and coercion. Justice was not arbitrary—as we shall
literature developed that described Fichte’s reworking of Rousseau’s Social Contract as the intellectual birth of German socialism. Fichte gave the state a pivotal role in reorganizing society so that it could afford all its members the opportunity to cultivate their individuality to the fullest and richest possible extent. He was celebrated by Ferdinand Lassalle as the philosophical forerunner of a future German republic, and The Closed Commercial State was cited by writers including John Dewey,
republican propagandist that Fichte was also earning—he was the presumed author of an anonymous Contribution to correct the judgment of the public about the French Revolution (1793)—he was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Jena in 1794. It was at Jena (“the Athens of Germany,” as Madame de Staël later called it) that Fichte published his first account of the foundations of the Wissenschaftslehre, his philosophical system.33 In a letter written in the spring of 1795, Fichte
out in a striking example, an individual’s purposive activity with respect to the natural world could very well take the form of refraining from changing it: Think, for example, of an isolated inhabitant of a desert island who sustains himself by hunting in the island’s woods. He has allowed the woods to grow as they might, but he knows them and all the conveniences they afford for his hunting. One cannot displace or level the trees in his woods without rendering useless all the knowledge he has