Dankfried Reetz. Schleiermacher im Horizont preußischer Politik: Studien und Dokumente zu Schleiermachers Berufung nach Halle, zu seiner Vorlesung über Politik 1817 und zu den Hintergründen der Demagogenverfolgung. Waltrop: Hartmut Spenner, 2002. 549 S. EUR 30.00 (leinen), ISBN 978-3-933688-78-1.
Reviewed by George Williamson (Department of History, University of Alabama)
Published on H-German (November, 2004)
The Theologian as Politician: Sources for a History of Schleiermacher and His Era
This book is not intended for the general reader, or even for the historian curious about Schleiermacher's political views and activities. Instead, it is best seen as a work of literary philology, of the type one associates with Goethe, Nietzsche, and other major figures of the German intellectual pantheon. While Dankfried Reetz's "studies" address a relatively narrow set of concerns within the field of Schleiermacher scholarship, the bulk of his book consists of over three hundred pages of previously unpublished documents concerning such disparate topics as Schleiermacher's appointment to Halle in 1804, his 1817 lectures on politics, and his investigation and interrogation during the Demagogenverfolgung of 1819-2. It is these documents, painstakingly copied from originals in the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz, that constitute Reetz's major contribution to the literature. Yet in many cases they say less about Schleiermacher himself than about the mentalities and assumptions that shaped his minders (and sometime tormentors) in the Prussian government.
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher was one of the most influential writers, teachers, and speakers of his generation. Born in 1768 to a Reformed clerical family, he was educated in the Moravian Pietist tradition in Niesky and Barby before transferring, against the wishes of his father, to the University of Halle. After graduation, he held positions as tutor, teacher, and adjunct preacher before accepting an appointment in 1796 as pastor at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. It was in the salons of that city that Schleiermacher met and befriended Friedrich Schlegel, a relationship that proved foundational for early Romanticism and which was reflected in his first book, Über die Religion: Reden an die Gebildeten unter ihren Verächtern (1799). Shortly after the dissolution of the Romantic circle, Schleiermacher was transferred to a pastorship in the town of Stolp. But by now his literary reputation had been established, and in 1804 he received (and accepted) the offer of an extraordinary professorship at the University of Würzburg. The first part of Reetz's book shows how Schleiermacher skillfully converted this offer into what (for him) was a far more desirable position: university preacher and extraordinary professor of theology and philosophy at Halle. By convincing King Friedrich Wilhelm III to both refuse his release from Prussian service and offer him the position in Halle, Schleiermacher was able to extricate himself from the Würzburg commitment without formally going back on his word.
Throughout his lifetime, Schleiermacher's interests ranged well outside the realms of theology and church affairs. His lectures and writings engaged questions of philosophy, aesthetics, psychology, pedagogy, and political philosophy, and he was an active participant in the liberal and nationalist movements of the era. On October 20, 1806, just days after the disastrous battle of Jena, invading French forces shut down the university in Halle. Schleiermacher left for Berlin and within a few years had established himself as a major figure in that city's public and intellectual life: pastor of the Dreifaltigkeitskirche; ordinarius of theology at the newly founded Friedrich Wilhelm University; member of the Royal Academy of Sciences; and official in the Kultusministerium's division of public instruction. In addition, he joined the circle of nationally minded reformers around Stein, Gneisenau, Scharnhorst, and Ernst Moritz Arndt (his future brother-in-law), promoting the reform cause in sermons and lectures while taking part in secret planning for the overthrow of the Napoleonic order. Schleiermacher would emerge from the War of Liberation as one of the leading spokesmen for theological and political liberalism in Germany, an influence that persisted well beyond his death in 1834.
Given Schleiermacher's importance as a theologian and a public figure, the Anglo-American literature on him remains somewhat underdeveloped. This stands in stark contrast to a rich tradition of Schleiermacher scholarship in Germany, which can trace its beginnings to Wilhelm Dilthey's Das Leben Schleiermachers (1870). For the past few decades, the main hubs of this activity have been the Schleiermacher Forschungsstellen in Kiel and Berlin, which have been churning out successive volumes of a five-part Kritische Gesamtausgabe. In addition, an International Schleiermacher Society sponsors regular conferences (and accompanying Sammelbände) dedicated to all things Schleiermacher. The volume and pace of this scholarship can make it difficult to gain a suitable overview of the topic (although Kurt Nowak's recent biography offers an excellent jumping-off point). It also means that many of the most important archival documents relating to Schleiermacher's life and career have already been published, leaving Dankfried Reetz with the task of filling in gaps, offering alternative versions, and correcting mistaken claims by earlier editors and commentators.
This state of affairs is evident in the second part of this book, which is dedicated to the "Politik-Vorlesungen" Schleiermacher gave during the summer semester of 1817. A full transcript of these lectures has already been published in the Kritische Gesamtausgabe, with accompanying commentary by Walter Jaeschke. The version published by Reetz is based on an alternative transcript found in the library of the Johanneum School in Hamburg, which includes only the first third of the lectures. A comparison of the two versions, which Reetz provides in the introduction to this section, reveals some minor discrepancies of language and content. But the major goal of his commentary is to refute Jaeschke's claim that the "Politik-Vorlesungen" contain almost no references to the political situation in Prussia. Reetz makes short work of this argument, noting the contemporary salience of Schleiermacher's statements about the desirability of constitutions, representative institutions, universal military service, a large class of peasant freeholders, and freedom of scholarship and the press--all of which Prussia lacked, despite the promises of Friedrich Wilhelm III and the efforts of Stein and his allies.
Still, there is a second, more conceptual order of historicization that Reetz fails to undertake. For example, one of the most striking aspects of these lectures is Schleiermacher's rejection of Hobbesian-Lockean contract theory in favor of a view of the state as one stage in the development of the Volk. Schleiermacher viewed the Volk as a natural phenomenon, made up of individual tribes that possessed a common language and, to some degree, common physical characteristics. After a certain period of evolution, a few individuals would become conscious of an opposition between authority (Obrigkeit) and subject (Untertan), and thus the difference between the general will and the merely particular will. This consciousness of the general will marked the foundation of the state.
Schleiermacher's view of the state, with its roots in both Prussian nationalism and Romantic Naturphilosophie, challenged the premises of both Lockean liberalism and the legitimist monarchism of a Metternich. Moreover, his dictum that "every nation should become a state" (p. 170) was directed explicitly at the German situation. Noting the differences among Germany's many "tribes," he envisioned a state that would take local characteristics and conditions into account, while cultivating consciousness of a "higher national unity" (p. 201). Although Schleiermacher favored constitutional monarchy over democracy, it was clear that his political vision could only be realized through radical, even revolutionary change.
The "Politik-Vorlesungen" constituted just one element of what for opponents was a growing brief against Schleiermacher. Already during the War of Liberation, the theologian had attracted the suspicion of conservative ministers in the Prussian government, who feared that the anti-Napoleonic cause was being hijacked by liberals interested in a fundamental reform of the monarchy. These concerns sharpened in the weeks and months following the murder of August von Kotzebue by Karl Sand in 1819. The subsequent investigation of the nationalist movement by Prussian and Bund authorities, which included the interrogation of suspects, the confiscation of letters, and the establishment of an extensive spy network, revealed Schleiermacher's many contacts with the Burschenschaft movement, the Turnvereine, and their sympathizers. Moreover, the fate of Schleiermacher's colleague and fellow theologian W. M. L. de Wette, who was fired for an overly approving condolence letter to Sand's mother, showed that a professor could lose his position even for privately voiced sentiments.
The third and largest part of this book is devoted to the post-1819 investigation of Schleiermacher. Among the documents included are excerpts from the Berlin-Bericht of the Bundeszentralkommission in Mainz, which documents Schleiermacher's desire for a "universal regeneration of the German nation" and a "new order of things" (expressed in a letter to his publisher Reimer following the battle of Jena), while presenting evidence of his links to radical nationalists and (more tentatively) his approval of Sand's deed. Also reproduced are drafts of an 1822 "presentation" written by the Prussian interior minister Friedrich von Schuckmann and the dogged, Javert-like police director Karl von Kamptz, who argued that Schleiermacher should be fired or at least sent off to a relative backwater like Königsberg or Greifswald. Reetz's accompanying study seeks to ascertain whether Karl von Altenstein's repeated insistence that Kamptz and Schuckmann revise their "presentation" was a delaying tactic designed to protect Schleiermacher, or whether it was simply intended to shore up the report's legal and factual basis (Reetz argues in favor of the latter). Texts of Schleiermacher's interrogation by Prussian authorities and his subsequent Verteidigungsschrift demonstrate the theologian's skill at deflecting many of the major accusations against him. Indeed, the Verteidigungsschrift would eventually convince Friedrich Wilhelm III to call off the investigation and retain Schleiermacher in his positions as professor and pastor in Berlin.
In the end, the material presented in this book reveals little that is really new about Schleiermacher the theologian or the politician. However, it may prove quite useful for historians interested in the attitudes that guided Schleiermacher's pursuers. The belief in a wide-spread conspiracy, the description of Schleiermacher's appeal as a kind of "seduction," and the recognition that they were dealing with an intelligent and crafty adversary shaped the reports of both the Bundeszentralkommission and the Prussian interior ministry. Those desiring a fuller picture of these matters--i.e., one not limited to Schleiermacher--will have to look elsewhere. But for those interested in how the Prussian and Bund investigative machines could turn against a single, highly placed individual, Reetz's volume is a very good place to start.
. Wilhelm Dilthey, Das Leben Schleiermachers. Erster Band (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1870).
. Kurt Nowak, Schleiermacher: Leben, Werk und Wirkung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 2001).
. Friedrich Schleiermacher, Kritische Gesamtausgabe, vol. II/8, Vorlesungen ueber die Lehre vom Staat, ed. Walter Jaeschke (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1998).
. The reports reproduced here are from 1822 and 1823. The 1820 report was published in Max Lenz, Geschichte der koeniglichen Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universitaet zu Berlin, 4 vols. (Halle a. d. S.: Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses, 1910-1918); cited in Nowak, 557N.
. The Verteidigungsschrift was first published in Aus Schleiermachers Leben. In Briefen, 4 vols. (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1858-1863), vol. 4: pp. 437-443. Reetz's version is an earlier draft of the same document.
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George Williamson. Review of Reetz, Dankfried, Schleiermacher im Horizont preußischer Politik: Studien und Dokumente zu Schleiermachers Berufung nach Halle, zu seiner Vorlesung über Politik 1817 und zu den Hintergründen der Demagogenverfolgung.
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