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Philosophers and Prussians. The Enlightenment and the European State, c. 1650-1800. Outline. Searching for a New Order Enlightenment Rationality and European Statecraft The Example of Prussia and Friedrich the Great. The Thirty Years’ War.

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Philosophers and prussians

Philosophers and Prussians

The Enlightenment and the European State, c. 1650-1800


  • Searching for a New Order

  • Enlightenment Rationality and European Statecraft

  • The Example of Prussia and Friedrich the Great

The thirty years war
The Thirty Years’ War

  • A deadly mix: “power politics” + religious hostilities = disaster for Germany!

  • Beginnings: the Bohemian dispute

    • Catholic Ferdinand II (r. 1619-37) elected as king of Bohemia, 1617

    • Protestant counteroffensive

    • The Battle of White Mountain (1620)

  • Friedrich V and Protestant alliance defeated, 1620-1625

  • The Danish phase (1626-1629)

    • King Christian IV vs. Imperial commander Count Albrecht von Wallenstein

  • The Swedish Phase (1630-1635)

    • King GustavusAdolphus (1594-1632) invades Germany

    • First major Protestant victories: Breitenfeld, 1631; Lützen, 1632

  • French phase and stalemate (1635-1643)

    • France enters the war (1635), on the Protestant side!

    • Fighting in the Spanish Netherlands, in the Empire, in the Atlantic, at home

The military revolution
The “Military Revolution”

  • The “military revolution” (c. 1550-1650)

    • Portable firearms

    • Combined arms

    • Close-order drill and battlefield discipline

    • New fortifications (the trace italienne)

    • Innovations in gov’tfinance

  • Result - one of the longest and most destructive wars until the First World War! (1914-18)

Swedish infantry brigade formation (pikemen and musketeers), depicted in 17th-century military guidebook

Philosophers and prussians

Above: “Star fort” in Groningen, Netherlands

Above left: Re-enactment of TYW “musketeers”

Left: Imperial formations advancing at the Battle of White Mountain (Bohemia, 1620)

The cost of the war
The Cost of the War

  • Mass death from violence, famine, and disease

  • At least 8 million dead (most civilians)

    • Over one-fourth of the entire population of the Holy Roman Empire!

    • In 1600: 20.3 million

    • In 1700: 15 million!

  • Leading powers bankrupted

  • Permanent religious divisions

    • Hardships described in The Adventures of A Simpleton, by Hans Jakob von Grimmelshausen (1669)

Above: Engraving from The Miseries of War, by Jacques Callot (1632)

Left: Grimmelshausen in 1641

The search for a new order
The Search for a New Order (1648)

  • 1648 –The Peace of Westphalia

    • Treaty of Osnabrück (May)

    • Treaty of Münster (Oct.)

  • Key Innovations

    • Religious Peace of Augsburg accepted by all participants

    • Toleration of minority religions required

  • After 1648: New interest in “rational” statecraft

Ratifying the Treaty of Muenster, 1648

The enlightenment and state power
The Enlightenment and State Power (1648)

  • Jean Bodin(1533-1592)– monarchical sovereignty the key to lasting order

  • Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) “natural law” rather than religious law.

  • Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) – Leviathan argues that an “absolute” ruler necessary

  • John Locke (1632-1704) – Government a “social contract”

  • Voltaire (1694-1778) suggested that government should operate on experience,

  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778)believed that governments had the duty to promote the happiness of subjects! (The Social Contract)

The absolutist solution
The Absolutist Solution (1648)

  • Key Concept: “Reason of State”

    • GustavusAdolphusexplains his entry into the Thirty Years’ War (1630):

    • Cardinal Richelieu describes France under Louis XIV

  • “Absolutism”

    • Monarchs recognize no legal limits on their power

    • The royalstate becomes the organizing structure for society

    • Growth of bureacracy and institutions – tax offices, law courts, armies and navies!

  • Proof: The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) and the “balance of power” system

    • Religion no longer determines alliances!

Left: Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden

Right: Cardinal Richelieu

Absolute monarchs
“Absolute” Monarchs (1648)

  • France - Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715) 

    • “L’Étatc’estmoi” (The state, it is me!)

  • Russia - Peter I (“the Great,” r. 1682-1725) and Catherine I (“the Great,” r. 1725-1727)

    • Replaced medieval Tsarist government with bureaucracy

    • Westernized court culture (no beards!)

    • Created Russian Empire

  • Prussia – Friedrich II (“the Great,” r. 1740-1786)

Louis XIV in 1701

Tsar and Emperor Peter I

Friedrich the Great in 1780

The case of prussia
The Case of Prussia (1648)

  • Between 1650 and 1800, the Kingdom of Prussia grew from a small German territory into a major European power!

  • Friedrich Wilhelm I (“the Soldier-King”; r. 1713-1740) and rational reforms

    • Military expansion

    • Centralized and expanded state bureaucracy, (especially tax offices)

    • Avoided wars

    • Subsidies for farming and manufacture

    • His goal was to ensure Prussia produced everything it needed to defend itself

    • His rule highly personal – concerned himself with every area of government and economy

Freiedrich Wilhelm I

Member of the “Potsdam Giants,” Friedrich’s personal guard

Friedrich the great an enlightened monarch
Friedrich the Great: an “Enlightened Monarch”? (1648)

  • Friedrich the Great (r. 1740-1786) - son of Friedrich Wilhelm I

  • Promoted education for the good of the state

  • Personal friend of Voltaire

  • Agnostic , but encouraged his subjects to hold Christian virtues (esp. obedience!)

  • Promoted economic and legal rationalism

  • Introduced reforms in agriculture (including cultivation of potatoes!)

  • Cut costs wherever possible

  • Emphasized military strength

  • Saw no restrictions on his power!

Friedrich the Great personally inspects the potato harvest in Brandenburg

  • “The greatest and noblest pleasure which men can have in this world is to discover new truths; and the next is to shake off old prejudice” – Friedrich II

Friedrich s wars
Friedrich’s Wars (1648)

  • First Silesian War (1740-42); against Austria

  • Second Silesian War (1744-45); against Austria

  • The Seven Years’ War (1757-63) against Austria, Russia, France

  • The First Partition of Poland (1772)

  • War of the Bavarian Succession (1778-79); against Austria

Prussian infantry advance in the First Silesian War

Rational or personal rule
Rational or personal rule? (1648)

  • The problem: Prussia’s success in the 1700s depended on the intense personal involvement of the king!

  • Privileged military aristocracy over civilian administration

    • “Junkers” = military nobility

  • Prussia’s strength did not last!

    • Under Friedrich Wilhelm III ( r. 1797-1806), Prussia defeated by Napoleon!

  • Legacy of Prussian militarism?

Napoleon Bonaparte and the French Army enter Berlin, 1806

How modern
How modern? (1648)

  • The Enlightenment and society

    • How “rational” does society and political life become?

  • Was the absolutism of Friedrich the Great an “Enlightened” form of government?