The enlightenment on trial: State service and social discipline in eighteenth-century germany's public sphere*: Michael J. Sauter

Modern Intellectual History 5 (2):195-223 (2008)

Prussia's Edict on Religion of 1788 forbade sermons that undermined popular belief in the Holy Trinity and the Bible. Scholars have assumed that this act was counter-enlightened because it limited the free use of reason in public. An analysis of two court cases related to the edict reveals, however, that both the edict and its “enlightened” opponents within the state assumed that public expression should be disciplined. With respect to the enlightened bureaucratic elite that opposed the edict, it identifies two factors that impelled them toward the disciplining of public communication: 1) German universities created an elite social group that assiduously cultivated its own intellectual sphere, and 2) having access to state power gave each member of the elite something to lose if the process of the Enlightenment proved politically or socially destabilizing. As a result, the fight over the Edict on Religion cannot be understood in terms of an Enlightenment/counter-Enlightenment dichotomy, but must be seen as a debate within the German elite about the level of social discipline that was sufficient for maintaining domestic tranquility.
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DOI 10.1017/S1479244308001625
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