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Samuel Pufendorf, The Constitution of the German Empire (1667)

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Germany is so weak because two evils converge in it: a poorly organized monarchy and, at the same time, a disordered confederation of states; the main evil is that neither form of government fits Germany. The outer appearance and empty forms point to a monarchy. In the early days, the king actually was what his title suggested. But after his influence had declined and the power and liberty of the estates had increased, barely a trace of the monarchical power remained, which can be observed in the leaders of a confederation of states. Thus, the imperial body is rocked by a destructive tug-of-war between the interests of the emperor and those of the estates: the former strives with every means toward the restoration of the old regal powers, whereas the latter steadfastly defend the power they have gained. The consequences are constant suspicion, mistrust, and hidden intrigues to prevent any increase in imperial power or to break estates-based power. Furthermore, the otherwise powerful Empire is incapable of attack and conquest because new acquisitions can neither be conceded to the emperor by the estates nor distributed evenly to all. This alone is monstrous: that head and limbs confront each other like two distinct entities.

Furthermore, for a variety of reasons, there are manifold differences between the estates, and these prevent Germany from appearing even as an ordered confederation of states. The estates have diverse forms of government that are difficult to reconcile; free states mix with monarchies. The affluence of cities that have grown rich through trade arouses the princes’ envy, especially since this wealth has partially flowed into the cities from their territories, and since there is no denying that some cities, like parasites, have grown large by draining the surrounding principalities of their resources. The nobles despise the burghers who are often no less proud of their money than the nobles are of their forebears or impoverished estates. Some princes consider the cities a reproach, as it were, against their rule, and they find that their subjects endure their status more reluctantly because of the example of neighboring liberty. Thus, envy, contempt, suspicion, and hidden intrigues arise everywhere. This prevails even more intensely and obviously between the bishops and those cities where their cathedrals are located. Even at the Imperial Diet, the princes display their aversion toward the college of cities; the emperor, by contrast, is well disposed toward the cities because he has greater influence on them than on the other estates.

However, the ecclesiastical and secular princes are not well disposed toward each other either. Among the princely class, the clergy ranks higher on account of the sanctity of their office, and because undoubtedly God’s spirit pours more richly onto bald heads than unshorn ones. For that reason, during the barbarian Middle Ages the clergy enjoyed the highest standing in the state. To the secular princes, though, it is vexing to have to see how suddenly the clergymen, usually coming from the lower nobility, receive equal or higher offices, and how they invoke the grace of God, especially since they are not able to pass their offices on and their families will remain in their previous stations. However, many bishops, following the example set by the Holy Father, also provide generously for their relatives by means of ecclesiastical benefices and donations. On the other hand, ecclesiastical princes also have legitimate reasons to be angry with secular ones because the latter force them to tighten their paunches; more on this topic below.

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