Federalism and Enlightenment in Germany, 1740-1806

Federalism and Enlightenment in Germany, 1740-1806

Federalism and Enlightenment in Germany, 1740-1806, by Maiken Umbach

Published by Hambledon Press in 2000, 232 pages. Hardback (N829)

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This book identifies two connected features of great but underrated importance in German history; the strength of devolved, federal government inside the Holy Roman Empire; and the influence of ideas imported from England. Both stood out against the militaristic absolutism and admiration of France associated with Prussia.

The German Enlightenment has usually been seen as an extension of the French Enlightenment, yet the influence of English ideas in agricultural, education and constitutional issues had a considerable impact, especially at the smaller courts. Whig constitutionalism had a strong appeal to and influence on many German princes; something that the tradition of historical writing begun by Ranke, in which the triumph of centralised government was the dominant theme, has tended to obscure. Prince Franz of Dessau, the champion of the Fuerstenbund, the league of German princes opposed to Prussian expansion, was influenced by Stowe far more than by Versailles at his palace at Woerlitz.

While the federal constitution of the Holy Roman Empire was abolished in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars, the subsequent centralisafion of Germany was not as inevitable as it has often been assumed. Even today the German government is the most federal in Europe, reflecting a long-term reality.

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