The emergence of the modern notion of the state in the early modern German territories

Vol. 320 of the Studien zur europäischen Rechtsgeschichte out now

December 08, 2020

Robert von Friedeburg investigates how the modern concept of ‘state’ developed in the German-speaking territories of the early modern German-speaking Reich. His wide-ranging study, covering both legal history and Begriffsgeschichte, shows that the concept was neither based on the Holy Roman Empire, nor was it understood to describe the consolidation of princely power over land and people. In the middle of the 17th century, the catastrophe of the Thirty Years’ War had fundamentally challenged the elements of political thought current around 1600. Lutheran and neo-Aristotelian ideas on the spiritual and material welfare of subjects in German debates interacted with Western European arguments against ‘despotism’. A particularly influential work was Seckendorff’s Teutscher Fürstenstaat (1656). The author conceived of a particular type of territorial state that as a unit of land, people and laws reached far back into the Middle Ages and through its legal system and administration (Policey) protected its inhabitants from princely excesses and incompetence. From the late 17th century onwards, these ideas increasingly found favour also with many princes and their advisors in both Protestant and Catholic German states.

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