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The Politics of the Prussian Nobility

The Politics of the Prussian Nobility: The Development of a Conservative Ideology, 1770-1848

Robert M. Berdahl
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 398
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zvtjs
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    The Politics of the Prussian Nobility
    Book Description:

    Measured by its capacity to endure, the Prussian nobility was the most successful in the modern history of continental Europe. Throughout the long vicissitudes of its history, this class--the Junkers--displayed a remarkable ability to adapt to new circumstances and maintain its own political power. Robert Berdahl presents a comprehensive interpretation of the tenacity of the Prussian nobles from the late eighteenth century until the revolution of 1848. At one level, he provides a richly detailed economic, social, and political history: the story of how the landowning nobility coped with changes in rural social relations after the emancipation of the serfs in 1807 and of how it survived the agrarian depression of the 1820s by the development of capitalist agriculture. At another level, he shows how the Junkers developed an ideology of conservatism that justified their control of a society that was becoming increasingly bourgeois.

    The domination of society by members of the nobility was traditionally supported by their experience in governing landed estates and particularly by the imagery of paternalism. Capitalist agriculture undermined the old landlord-peasant relations, but the nobility continued to exploit paternalistic images of domination.

    Originally published in 1988.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5978-8
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. LIST OF TABLES
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 3-13)

    Measured by its capacity to endure, the Prussian nobility was the most successful nobility in the modern history of continental Europe. Throughout the long vicissitudes of its history, it displayed a remarkable ability to adapt to new circumstances in ways that ensured the continuation of its political force. In the seventeenth century, the Electors of Brandenburg-Prussia sought to increase their control over the far-flung territories of the state by limiting the power of the nobility; they disbanded noble assemblies and created a new bureaucracy to carry out their policies. The landowning nobility responded by consolidating its control over the rural...

  7. 1 NOBLE AND PEASANT: THE CONTOURS OF SOCIAL CLASS
    (pp. 14-43)

    The Prussian nobility, which played so prominent a role in modern German history, was a landowning class. More than for any other aristocracy in Europe, the ownership and management of landed estates formed the core of its ethos. Its power as a class rested, to be sure, not only on its control of the land, but also on its domination of the important institutions of the Prussian state, especially the army and the bureaucracy. Nevertheless, throughout its long history, the Prussian aristocracy remained a landowning class, taking its identity, self-perceptions, habits of authority, and style of domination from its experiences...

  8. 2 HABITUS AND HERRSCHAFT: THE SYSTEM OF DOMINATION
    (pp. 44-76)

    The east Elbian noble estates, together with their attendant villages, formed relatively self-contained communities; at the same time they had important economic ties with distant European markets. Indeed, it can be shown how extensively the economic welfare of remote estates was dependent on the flow of trade from the Baltic seaports to western Europe and England.¹ During the nineteenth century, the greater mechanization of agriculture increased that dependency. Nevertheless, for most daily requirements, the estates and villages were largely self-sufficient. The needs that the peasants could not themselves satisfy could be met in their village or in a town a...

  9. 3 CROSS-CURRENTS OF ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CHANGE
    (pp. 77-106)

    There is a danger that these descriptions of the status and conditions of the servitude of the east Elbian peasantry may convey an image of a static social system, one that continued for several centuries without any apparent change. It is true that change came slowly, that many of the conditions that existed at the end of the seventeenth century continued into the nineteenth century, even after the agrarian reforms. The habits of authority and deference, deeply ingrained in this rural culture, did not disappear readily, even with later changes in the legal relationships between lords and peasants. But the...

  10. 4 THE REFORM ERA AND THE POLITICS OF THE NOBILITY
    (pp. 107-157)

    The defeat of the Prussian army at Jena and Auerstadt on October 14, 1806, brought an end to the ancien regime in Prussia By the end of October, the main contingents of the army had surrendered, the garrisons had capitulated with astonishing alacrity, the king and his advisers had fled to Konigsberg and later to Memel, and Napoleon had occupied Berlin Through an alliance with Russia, Prussia prolonged the hostilities until the spring of 1807, but the defeat of the Russians at Friedland on June 14 left Prussia no alternative but to accept the harsh stipulations of the Peace of...

  11. 5 ADAM MULLER AND THE GENESIS OF A CONSERVATIVE IDEOLOGY
    (pp. 158-181)

    In the early chapters of this book I described the system by which the nobility exercised its domination of the peasantry. The police, the patrimonial courts, and the appropriation of peasant labor were the direct means of control. This was augmented indirectly, I have argued, by the intimate euphemisms of family and paternalism and, at the same time, by a system of symbolic Herrschaft that created social distance between the nobility and the peasantry, naturalizing and justifying the superiority of the nobility. Down to the end of the eighteenth century, the ideological dimensions of this system were never very explicit....

  12. 6 THE POLITICS OF RESTORATION
    (pp. 182-230)

    Historians generally refer to the period of German history between 1815 and 1848 either as the restoration or asVormarz(pre-March) Each of these terms implies a certain historical evaluation of the eraRestorationsuggests an emphasis on the recovery of the conservative elements of the society after the tumultuous years of the wars and the reforms and points to the strength of the forces of continuity and preservation The termVormarz,on the other hand, is forward looking It views the era as a prelude, a preparation for the revolutionary days of March 1848, and suggests the irrepressible force...

  13. 7 THE IDEOLOGY OF RESTORATION
    (pp. 231-263)

    The conservative ideology that emerged in Prussia prior to 1815 had developed largely in response to the reforms of Stem and Hardenberg As shown, however, it also reflected the “crisis of hegemony” that had afflicted the landowning nobility in Prussia since the late eighteenth century¹ New crops and methods of tillage, rising prices for grain and land, the expansion of credit and subsequent speculation, the deeper penetration of the rules and values of the market into rural society, all of these developments had conspired to loosen the bonds of paternalism long used to justify the nobility’s domination of the peasantry...

  14. 8 NOBLE AND PEASANT BETWEEN REFORM AND REVOLUTION
    (pp. 264-310)

    On March 24, 1822, as the agrarian crisis that had begun two years earlier showed signs of deepening, Theodor von Schön, then governor of West Prussia, wrote a troubled and prescient letter to Chancellor Hardenberg. “Everyone considers it to be a momentary market conjuncture, builds plans upon plans, and asks for help in averting a quickly passing danger,” he wrote.

    The estate owners of this province have held on and, up to the present, no estate has been forced into sale; but one can see trouble coming and, especially in East Prussia, there is spreading concern of a total transformation...

  15. 9 POLITICS ON THE EVE OF REVOLUTION
    (pp. 311-347)

    The central problem confronting Prussia after 1840 was that the institutions of the state, established during the early years of the restoration, were incapable of accommodating the changes that had subsequently overtaken Prussian society. Within the state, a tension existed between the institutions of local authority and those of the central government. This tension intensified, in large part, because the promised constitutional development had never taken place. The landowning nobility continued to dominate the countryside through the Landräte, the county assemblies, and the provincial diets, but, except insofar as the Landräte carried out the orders of the central government, these...

  16. 10 IDEOLOGY ON THE EVE OF REVOLUTION: FRIEDRICH JULIUS STAHL
    (pp. 348-373)

    Down to the 1840s, the conservative ideology of the Prussian nobility developed largely in response to the bureaucratic absolutism of the eighteenth century and the era of the Stein-Hardenberg reforms. First Adam Midler, then Carl Ludwig von Haller, elaborated a view of authority that corresponded to the daily experience of the landowning nobility: Herrschaft required the direct control of subjects by a paternal authority. The landowning nobility exercised patrimonial power over the peasants on their estates, and the king was the patrimonial ruler of the land. When exercised directly, by a king and his nobility, this Herrschaft was tangible and...

  17. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 374-380)

    In the years that separated the Stein-Hardenberg agrarian reforms from the revolution of 1848, the Prussian nobility established and consolidated the modern basis for the political power it would exercise at least until the end of the Second Empire in 1918. It is to this period that we must look if we are to understand the basis for continuity in German history between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and if we are to grasp the full import of what Hans-Ulrich Wehler has called the “long catalog of heavy historical burdens” of the German past. These “historical burdens” were above all...

  18. INDEX
    (pp. 381-384)