Johann Gottlieb Fichte: Nationalist, Philosopher, Economist

Joseph D. Pryce

Philosophy consists not
In airy schemes, or idle speculations:
The rule and conduct of all social life
Is her great province.
James Thomson

Fichte

The great German thinker Johann Gottlieb Fichte was born on May 19th, 1762, at Rammenau in upper Lusatia. His father was the descendant of a Swedish soldier who, serving under Gustavus Adolphus, was left wounded at Rammenau and decided to settle there. Fichte’s mother is said to have been of a quarrelsome and jealous disposition, and biographers have occasionally hinted that these traits can account for the philosopher’s legendary impetuousness and impatience. One might say that whatever were the faults of Fichte’s mother, she managed to give birth to Fichte.

At a very early age, our hero showed such remarkable intellectual precocity that he was taken under the wing of one Freiherr von Miltitz, who provided the earnest young man with an education which would have been far beyond his father’s circumstances. After a short stay at Meissen, Fichte was enrolled in the Schulpforta at Naumburg, that legendary breeding-ground of genius (Nietzsche was to be an alumnus). In 1780, he entered the university of Jena as a student of theology, supporting himself by private teaching. During the years 1784-1787, he became tutor to various families in Saxony. In 1788 Fichte obtained a tutorship in Zurich, where he eventually met Lavater and Hartmann Rahn, to whose daughter, Johanna, he became engaged. Unfortunately, their wedding plans were overthrown by a commercial catastrophe which shattered the fortunes of the Rahn family.

After settling at Leipzig, Fichte experienced the most important event of his life, his encounter with the Kantian philosophy. His letters of this period testify to the overwhelming impression which the critical philosophy made upon him. Feeling that Kant’s manner of expression was impeding the successful propagation of his ideas, Fichte set about preparing an abridgment of Kant’s Kritik der Urteilskraft, which, however, he soon abandoned. Shortly thereafter, he did complete an original work, the Versuch einer Kritik aller Offenbarung (Towards a Critique of all Revelation), which impressed Kant so much that he procured a publisher for the work. Due to an oversight on the part of the printer, Fichte’s name did not appear on the title-page, and the readership jumped to the conclusion that the work was in fact written by the great Kant himself. When the truth as to the actual authorship was made known, Fichte’s fame was secure.

The success of Fichte’s book, coupled with an improvement in the fortunes of the Rahn family, enabled our hero to marry his sweetheart at Zürich in October 1793. At the end of 1793, Fichte was invited to succeed K. L. Reinhold as extraordinary professor of philosophy at Jena, where his fame was instantaneous and complete, due largely to his tremendous effectiveness as a lecturer. Later, under the bayonets of Napoleon, this skill would be instrumental in awakening the dormant forces of German nationalism.

The years at Jena were very productive ones, and from this period comes Fichte’s masterwork, the Wissenschaftslehre (“The Science of Knowledge”), which he worked on for many years, and which appeared in several guises, accompanied by an astonishingly varied panoply of editorial, supplementary, and introductory materials over the succeeding years.

In the Wissenschaftslehre, Fichte, who teaches that the ultimate basis for the act of cognition is located in the Will, attempts to isolate and describe a principle which might unify the realms of pure and practical reason. To answer the question as to what this principle might be, we must bear in mind just what Fichte’s intention was in designating all philosophy as Science of Knowledge. Philosophy is, for him, the radical rethinking of cognition, the theory of knowledge, the complete exposition of the principles which ground all rational cognition. Philosophy must trace the necessary acts whereby cognition comes to be what it is, in content and in form. This is not, according to our thinker, a phenomenological history of consciousness, or a natural history, but an attempt to deduce the entire organism of cognition from a series of fundamental axioms. There are three thinkable, necessary conditions for the emergence of cognition: one, which is perfectly unconditioned both with regard to matter and form; second, unconditioned in form but not in matter; and a third, unconditioned in matter but not in form. For Fichte, the first must be fundamental, since it conditions the other two. This discussion forms the meat of the introduction to the Wissenschaftslehre.

Fichte then asserts that the primitive condition of all intelligence is that the Ego shall posit and affirm itself. Consciousness can come to be only when the Ego brings about the process of its own self-emergence. The non-Ego is that which is opposed to the thinking consciousness; the two limit one another, or set determinations to each other, and, as limitation functions as the negation of part of a divisible quantum, the divisible Ego is opposed to a divisible non-Ego.

It would take a tremendous amount of time and space to indicate the steps by which the Ego develops into the all-embracing system of cognitive categories, or to trace the deduction of the processes (productive imagination, intuition, sensation, understanding, judgment, reason) whereby the indefinite non-Ego eventually assumes the appearance of definite objects in time and space. This is, obviously, a very difficult system of thought, and shortly after the initial appearance of the Wissenschaftslehre, wits were exultantly braying (philistines will be always with us, I fear!) that Fichte was claiming that the entire phenomenal world was a figment of his own imagination! This prompted the sage Goethe to the devastating query: “What does Fichte’s wife say about that?” (Those readers who wish to delve further into the labyrinth of the Fichtean metaphysics might do well to obtain a copy of the Heath/Lachs translation of the Wissenschaftslehre – “The Science of Knowledge,” with the First and Second Introductions, published by the Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1982 – reprinted in 1984).

Students of this philosophy will note how close is the thinking of our hero to the dialectical method of Hegel (brought to its glorious triumph in the magisterial “Phenomenology of Spirit”); one might note as well that the great Arthur Schopenhauer, favorite thinker of so many of the German National Socialist leaders (not, repeat not Nietzsche!), was indebted to Fichte for his conception of the role that the Will plays in Nature and in consciousness.

Fichte’s career at Jena came to a catastrophic close when he was accused of atheism, on the basis of a short paper entitled On the Grounds of our Belief in a Divine Government of the Universe. The government of the grand duchy of Sachsen-Weimar secured Fichte’s censure, assuming that Fichte would back down from the position which he took in the paper. They did not understand their man, of course, and Fichte was dismissed.

Berlin, which was the only town in Germany open to Fichte at this point, became his home from 1799 to 1806 (except for a short visit to Erlangen where he delivered a series of lectures in the summer of 1805). Here he published many of his most original works, of which the most remarkable are Bestimmung des Menschen (The Vocation of Man); Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Closed, or Isolated, Commercial State – about which more later in this essay); lectures on the Wissenschaftslehre, Wesen des Gelehrten (Nature of the Scholar); and the Anweisung zum seligen Leben oder Religionslehre (Way to a Blessed Life).

The disasters which befell Prussia in 1806 drove Fichte out of Berlin. He moved first to Stargard, then to Königsberg (where he delivered several lectures), then to Copenhagen, whence he returned to Berlin in August of 1807. He was, knowingly or not, on the verge of his greatest hour. . .

On a Sunday evening, December the 13th, 1807 to be specific, a short but stocky man whose large, piercing eyes shot lightning from under a mass of thick, dark hair, strode to the podium of the great hall of the Academy of Sciences in Berlin, where he was scheduled, at least according to the Moniteur newspaper, to deliver the first of a projected series of lectures on proposals for reforms to the educational system. The authorities, one would assume, thought that our hero was about to deliver some safe and sleepy stuff. But Fichte, who by now had become acknowledged as one of the glories of the classical age of German Idealistic philosophy, had decided to deliver something very different to the students and scholars assembled before him. Though French troops were still occupying Berlin in the wake of Napoleon’s victories against Prussia; though the hall of the Academy of Sciences was lousy with spies; and though close friends had warned the philosopher to take care for his physical safety, Fichte had prepared, and proceeded to deliver, the first of his fiercely nationalistic and epoch-making Reden an die deutsche Nation (“Addresses to the German Nation”). He would continue with this series of Sunday-night lectures until the twentieth of March, 1808. Fichte’s courage must have completely disarmed the occupation authorities, for he doesn’t seem to have been molested. Again we see, as we have seen throughout the course of Western history, that one man of iron determination can overwhelm his enemies with the sheer force of his Will, leaving them stupefied and defenseless before his onslaught.

The “Addresses” are extraordinary documents. Far from being the vaporous outpourings of a bookish and sheltered theoretician with his trotters firmly planted in Cloud Cuckoo Land, they comprise both a projection of the desiderated items in the German character from which a genuine state might be formed, coupled with a closely-argued exposition of the means whereby these items might best be utilized by a practical statecraft.

Fichte asserts that he speaks “for Germans and for Germans only” in the first address, and with this self-imposed limitation, we can sense just how far Fichte has traveled from the imbecile nostrums of the so-called Enlightenment, which make no provision for the particularities – whether ethnic, historical, religious, or psychological – which color life as it is lived on planet earth. When an ‘Enlightenment’ thinker comes across the phenomenon of Machiavelli, for instance, he will immediately drag out from his bookshelves a treatise on Morality, and beat the great Italian statesman over the head with its weighty pronouncements, which are thought to be binding in all times and in all places, from the Stone Age cave to the rococo salon. Fichte, however, asks whether Machiavelli shouldn’t be judged by the standards of his time, and in the context of the real world in which the author of Il Principe attempted to achieve his reforms. Fichte is a philosopher, after all, and not an intellectual, and it strikes him that the Prussian monarchs who followed Frederick the Great would have been well-advised to incorporate a little of the great Italian’s realism in their plans for a reborn kingdom – nothing else seemed to be able to protect them from the ravages of Bonaparte’s militarism! One is still amused when reading eighteenth-century enthusiasts with their lucubrations on a certain creature called ‘man’ – this fellow has no predicates attached to him; he is of the void and formless, his skull housing nothing other than delight at the thought of being force-fed with the injection-moulded plastic of a universalizing ‘education.’ Fichte, on the other hand, ignores such airy hallucinations to describe the German spirit as he finds it. The Germans are, he feels, of a free disposition because of their unmixed racial stock, and because of the infinite plasticity of the German language, which enables it to express, in vivid and colorful fashion, the most probing thoughts. Fichte feels that the other Germanic languages, and the languages of the Latin races, are infinitely less capable instruments. With regard to the ethnic greatness of the Germans, he remarks that no other Volk has ever been favored by nature and history with such an ebullient nationalism, without which there could have been no successful fruition for the great idea of the Protestant Reformation. The Germans are also uniquely endowed, he feels, with the gift for the deepest-reaching philosophical speculation. With that last statement, few of us would disagree.

Modern commentators, most especially in the wake of the Second World War, have been assiduous in attempting to persuade us that Fichte’s nationalism is really very little different from the fulminations of our 4th of July rhetors, and that his concern for Germany was that of an impassioned patriot whose country was occupied by foreign troops, whose conduct was, as might be expected, less than impeccable. Of course, we’re supposed to regard Hitler’s words a century later, at a time when Negro troops are occupying German soil, raping and slaughtering German women and children, as beyond the pale. But if you quote representative passages from Fichte’s “Addresses” cheek-by-jowl with the most inflammatory pages from Mein Kampf you’ll find that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the attitudes motivating these two thinkers. Certainly, the intellectuals on whom I tried this little trick became quite exasperated when their high-powered craniums gave them no assistance – they were completely at sea with regard to who was who!

Here are a few of our thinker’s weighty words from the “Addresses to the German Nation”:

What is love of fatherland, or, to express it more correctly, what is love of the individual for his nation?…. only the German – the original man, who has not become dead in an arbitrary organization – really has a Volk and is entitled to count on one, and that he alone is capable of real and rational love for his nation.

He to whom a fatherland has been handed down, and in whose soul heaven and earth, visible and invisible, meet and mingle, and thus, and only thus, create a true and enduring heaven – such a man fights to the last drop of his blood to hand on the precious possession unimpaired to his posterity.

What spirit has an undisputed right to summon and order everyone concerned, whether he himself be willing or not, and to compel anyone who resists, to risk everything including his life?

Not the spirit of the peaceful citizen’s love for the constitution [!!!!!] and the laws, but the devouring flame of the higher patriotism, which embraces the nation as the vesture of the eternal, for which the nobly-minded man joyfully sacrifices himself, and the ignoble man, who only exists for the sake of the other, must likewise sacrifice himself.

We must at once become what we ought to be in any case, namely, Germans. We are not to subject our spirit; therefore we must, above all, provide a spirit for ourselves, and a firm and certain spirit; we must become earnest in all things and not go on existing frivolously, as if life were a jest; we must form for ourselves enduring and unshakable principles which will serve as a sure guide for all the rest of our thoughts and actions. Life and thought with us must be of one piece and a solid and interpenetrating whole; in both we must live according to nature and truth, and throw away foreign artifices; in a word, we must provide character for ourselves; for to have character and to be German (Charakter haben und deutsch sein) undoubtedly mean the same.

Quite moderate and respectable in tone, no? I would like to see one of Fichte’s tame exegetes in the Federal Republic fetch a bull-horn and recite any of the above on a streetcorner, say, in Frankfurt. I’m sure the Oberjuden will instruct the Polizei to release the offender after a kalpa or two in protective custody: “Oh, I see! That sermon was just a bit of harmless fun from old Fichte. Let the good professor go in peace.”

Earlier, I mentioned Fichte’s work on the closed, or isolated (exclusive) commercial state. We must now discuss one dimension of his thought which hasn’t been explored in any depth in our time, namely Fichte’s economics. Now anyone who has perused a significant amount of economic literature will sympathize with Thomas Carlyle, who referred to the entire discipline as ‘the dismal science.’ Fichte, however, who is scarcely mentioned in even the major contemporary textbooks on the development of socialist theory, did publish, in 1800, a volume entitled Der geschlossene Handelsstadt (“The Closed Commercial State”), which was considered by Fichte himself to be the most carefully wrought and profoundly considered of his entire career. Although this work has not received much attention of late (indeed, few theoreticians of the nineteenth century itself seemed to be aware of its findings), it might be in our interest to study this text because the problem with which Fichte is grappling here is one about which many racial-nationalists are talking at this very moment: namely, Autarky – the theory of absolute economic self-sufficiency. Naturally, the utopian and ‘scientific’ socialists of the nineteenth century, who were interested, almost to a man, in dragooning the entirety of a serf-like ‘mankind’ into their classless, fàtherland-less legions, couldn’t see the point of attaining total economic sovereignty in the German lands or anywhere else for that matter. But we, who are laboring in the shadows of the most perfected and lethal universalist tyranny which the globe has ever witnessed, might find that those of us who will be fortunate enough to survive the upheavals which loom ahead, might want to know just how to go about achieving, in the future Aryan ‘Ethno State,’ an hermetic closure – in the economic sphere and in the national sphere – which can preserve us for all time from the consequences of New World Order theory and practice.

Fichte was a very hard-headed man, and his designs for an autarkic state are based upon a granitic foundation: before he generates his theory, he observes the nature of man as he actually exists on the earth. In this, of course, Fichte runs counter to almost the whole socialist tradition of European thought in the nineteenth century, with its programs and platitudes, with its deceptions and deliriums, and with its resolute insistence upon legislating for a homo sapiens that was never seen on sea or land (other than in dreamland). When Fichte remarks that spirit cannot take flight until the man has had enough to eat, we realize that we can trust our tiller to his hand.

Now Fichte’s theory, which forms a beautifully contrived amalgam of Gallic radical thought and German nationalistic Romanticism, raises as many questions as it answers; for instance, Fichte doesn’t toss the concept of Freedom around as if it were a universal condiment, a ketchup for any type of fast-food. He realizes that the very concept of freedom is problematical, as when he insists that unlimited liberty is equivalent to no liberty at all, because no one can conceive of causing an effect in the phenomenal world whose duration will be guaranteed. In short, life in the state will entail an antagonism of forces which can only be resolved through the instruments of formal and informal agreements. These agreements, by their very nature, will restrict and, in some cases, curtail the liberty of one or the other of the parties involved. The agreement thus arrived at which assigns rights of free activity to the citizens is called property.

Fichte regards this manifestation of contractual agreement and unification of human activity as the Vernunftsstaat (‘Rational State’). Fichte opposes the idea that it is the function of the State to assign property to its citizens and then to provide protection for the rights which correspond to that property. Fichte scorns the notion that property arrangements exist independently of the state, which is not permitted to inquire into the means whereby the property was acquired. Recall, if you will, Balzac’s belief that all great fortunes were founded on great crimes!

In opposition to the prescriptions of utopian intellectuals, who preconize the sound and fury of their own raucous voices, which rage in the air without rhyme or reason or sound common sense, Fichte insists that without a scrupulous theoretical basis, all schemes for the reform of the economic sphere must be left to blind chance. He feels that utopian scribblers are not really interested in the real world, and that they are attempting to legislate for fantasy-land, never having incorporated a genuine perception of the nature of man in their theoretical constructions. Fichte is convinced – and although this is a hard word, we would ignore it to our peril – that “everyone who wishes to organize a Republic, or any State for that matter, must assume the maliciousness of man.” This recognition of the less-than-angelic nature of our species prompts Fichte to design certain provisions which will bind the citizens of his Closed Commercial State (I will delve, a little bit further on, into the extra-economic benefits with which this scheme will endow that projected racial State for which we are all working).

Fichte insists that the constellation of contracts which will bind the citizens of his State must contain both a ‘negative’ provision (which entails that each group must stick to its profession), and a ‘positive’ provision (which requires that each group must render up to the others that which is required to engage in their trade to the satisfaction of the commonweal. It is the dirigiste State which imparts a legal status to the above-mentioned contracts, and which supervises their execution – and the State is not to be a passive observer: Fichte sees the State power as organizing and planning the activity of the main categories of economic life (agriculture, manufacturing, and commerce) under the following four aspects:

1. The numbers of citizens involved in the three main corporations are to be calculated on the basis of the aggregate of agricultural production. Fichte insists that full employment cannot be guaranteed unless the State fixes the exact number of those who are permitted to work in a particular branch and provides for the production of the necessary means of livelihood for all citizens.

2. All citizens are to be guaranteed a proportional share of all products so that all of the inhabitants or the country may enjoy an equally agreeable standard of living. Fichte regards it as one of the essential elements of State policy to ensure that superfluous commodities are to recede behind the commodities which are indispensable. The first obligations of the State, according to Fichte, are to ensure that all have enough to eat, and that all should have permanent housing accommodations (and that, before one decorates one’s dwelling!). All should have clothing which is warm and comfortable before clothing which is merely sumptuous. It is unjust in the extreme for some citizens to parade around in unnecessary finery while their fellow-citizens lack even the essentials.

3. The State will guarantee not only jobs, but also markets to its citizens. Prices are to be fixed, and to have legal character.

4. Here we come to the most-important element of Fichte’s Rational State:

The State is obligated to guarantee for all of its citizens, both by law and by force, the conditions resulting from the equilibrium of their common intercourse. Yet the State will not be able to do so if any person outside its laws and dominion can exert any influence on this equilibrium. It is therefore imperative that the State cut off all possibility of such an influence. All intercourse with foreigners must be forbidden and made impossible for its citizens.

The government, in order to assure continuously the fulfillment of the customary needs of its citizens, must rely on the certainty that a certain quantity of goods is being traded. How will the State be able to count on the foreigner’s contribution to said quantity since he is outside the government’s dominion? It is to fix and guarantee the price of a commodity. How can the State succeed with respect to foreign nationals if it is unable to fix those prices which prevail in the foreigner’s country and at which he will buy the raw materials? If the government sets a price for him which he cannot afford, he will accordingly avoid its market and a lapse in the satisfaction of customary needs will ensue. It is to guarantee to each subject the sale of his products at the specified price. How can the State do so if the subject can sell his product on foreign markets where different economic relations prevail which the State can neither oversee nor control?

A closed economic state is a closed imperium of laws and individuals…. It can turn into money whatever it desires, provided that the State declares that it will accept this and no other money…. The State would thus create a national currency without bothering to raise the question as to whether this currency would or would not be accepted abroad, because for a closed commercial state foreign countries are as if they did not even exist.

A closed commercial state does not care whether there is, in customary terms, a large or small quantity of money in circulation. The total quantity of money in circulation represents the total quantity of goods in circulation.

How does Fichte assure that foreign trade is to be rendered impossible? Simple: he would deprive all citizens of international means of payment. Before the inauguration of the new currency, the State would purchase all foreign commodities in the country. This achieves, at one stroke, an assessment of the available stock and present needs for such commodities, and an opportunity to facilitate the centralizaton of the administration of price-fixing.

The government will now set up a monopoly for the administration of foreign trade – from this point on the government, and the government alone, will decide which commodities will be imported and exported.

Next, the government will set up a central clearing agency to control and liquidate all foreign claims to and from its citizens. Fichte now introduces his concept of natural frontiers:

Certain areas of the earth, with their inhabitants, are destined by nature to form political units. They are isolated from the rest of the planet by rivers, oceans, mountains…. It is these indications of nature as to what must remain united and what must remain separated that one keeps in mind when speaking of the natural frontiers of empires; a consideration which must be taken more seriously than is commonly done. We mustn’t place our sole emphasis on impregnably protected frontiers, but rather on productive independence and self-sufficiency…. Governments will speak of the necessity of rationalizing their borders and state that, in view of their other territorial possessions, they cannot exist without this or that fertile province or mine or salt-work, always thinking of the acquisition of their natural boundaries.

Of course, Fichte regards war as inevitable until that moment when the Rational State has arrived at its natural boundaries, at which time the closed commercial state

must give and be able to give its neighbors the guarantee that it will henceforth refrain from further expansion…. To the closed commercial state not the slightest benefit can accrue from an expansion beyond its natural frontiers, because its entire constitution has been designed only for its given extension.

The authorities now proceed to develop internal sources for import substitutes, distinguishing at all times between such needs as contribute to the well-being of its citizens and those which merely serve as prestige items. Though foreign trade is still taking place (so that the State can use up all of its foreign exchange reserves), as soon as autarky is achieved, the world will be partitioned among a number of these closed commercial states who have reached their natural frontiers, between which states

destined to a continuing barter [of those commodities which cannot be produced in a certain country because of, say, climatic conditions], a trade agreement could be achieved according to which one partner is pledged forever to grow for the other a certain quantity of wine in exchange for the delivery of a certain quantity of corn. Neither partner is to attempt to achieve a profit on the exchange, but only an absolute equality of value. Therefore, there would be no need for currency in such trades, only for clearing.

One is struck by the serendipity of it all: not merely has Fichte furnished us with an exposition of the nature of his Rational State and the means whereby such a state may be constructed, but he has solved two very worrisome problems of whose very nature he can only have been dimly aware. He wrought, as it were, better than he knew.

And what were the two problems that I just mentioned? First, it should be obvious that the implementation of Fichte’s scheme breaks the powers of those mediative agents upon whose skill and chicanery all international trade, currency exchange, and price-fixing of precious metals depends. There can be, in short, no room for our dear national and international parasites, the Jews and their flunkies, who are not now, who never have been, nor will they ever be, real producers of wealth, genuine creators of values, but merely lucre-cadging agents of the One Mud World. With the implementation of the Fichtean scheme, international Jewry will be, for the first time in the history of the world, effectively marginalized. Without bowing down and racing our skulls towards the brick wall of Jewish power, with the Protocols in one hand and the International Jew in the other, we will find that that we will be able to shatter the fortress of the Money Power without even having to disclose our larger aims to the timid and superstitious fools who are wasting so much of Mother Earth’s oxygen supply.

The second point – perhaps even more important than the first – we have discovered, under the great philosopher’s tutelage, a means whereby the gene-pool of our Aryan Imperium can be preserved from racial contamination. When foreign travel and international trade, those great engines of miscegenation and chaos, have been reduced to the desired minimum, national borders will become national barricades instead of the permeable membranes that they so obviously are in the current situation. We will thus be enabled to encourage a free play of those essential mechanisms whereby evolutionary biology achieves its progressive aims (so well described by Sir Arthur Keith in his “A New Theory of Human Evolution”): namely, prejudice and nationalism. In an exclusive economic sphere, nationalism will function as the analogous phenomenon of inter-tribal hostility functioned during the period of our most rapid evolutionary advance – as a racialist prophylaxis. From isolation will come cohesion, and from cohesion will be fashioned the Lebensborn of the Aryan Lords.

The great battle for German independence began in 1813, and although Fichte could not take an active part in the war, he continued to deliver lectures for the cause. His addresses on the idea of a true war, Über den Begriffeines wahrhaften Kriegs, contain a pointed contrast between what he regarded as Fiance’s aggressive actions against Germany and Germany’s just prosecution of her War of Liberation.

In the autumn of 1813, with the hospitals of Berlin overflowing with the sick and wounded victims of the campaign, Fichte’s wife devoted herself to caring for her countrymen without the slightest regard for her own safety, and, in January 1814, she was smitten with a virulent hospital fever. Fichte was struck down the day after his wife was pronounced out of danger. He lingered on for some days in a semi-conscious state, and succumbed on January 27th, 1814.

Yet he lives ….

SOURCE: The Liberty Bell, January 1995

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