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Building or destroying community: the concept of Sittlichkeit in the political thought of Vormärz Germany

Journal article
Authors Anton Jansson
Published in Global Intellectual History
Volume 5
Issue 1
Pages 86-103
ISSN 2380-1883
Publication year 2020
Published at Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and Religion
Centre for European Research (CERGU)
Pages 86-103
Language en
Keywords Sittlichkeit, conceptual history, political ideologies, Karl Theodor Welcker, Wilhelm Weitling, Friedrich Julius Stahl
Subject categories History of Ideas, Practical philosophy, History


The purpose of this article is to emphasise the importance of the concept of Sittlichkeit for understanding the contestation around community and social cohesion during the German Vormärz, the decades before 1848. I will demonstrate the centrality of the concept of Sittlichkeit via a conceptual-historically inspired analysis of the works of three thinkers who were at the centre of the development of German political ideologies of the Vormärz era: the liberal Karl Theodor Welcker, the conservative Friedrich Julius Stahl, and the socialist Wilhelm Weitling. The concept of Sittlichkeit was influenced by the philosophy of Hegel and in various ways concerned the customs and social cohesion of a specific community. I will show how this was the case to different extents in the works of Welcker, Stahl, and Weitling. Concomitant with their respective political convictions, Sittlichkeit for Welcker was connected to constitutional liberties, for Stahl related to a hierarchical godly order, and for Weitling it was something which was oppressive, and needed to be destroyed. This discussion about the centrality of Sittlichkeit will also serve to stress another point: that in Vormärz Germany, political ideologies were formed in close connection with Christianity and Christian theology.

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