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Emperor Joseph II on the Structure and Political Condition of the Austrian Monarchy and the Holy Roman Empire (1767/68)
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In addition to the organizational failures that I have just mentioned, there is unfortunately also the poor internal constitution [of the empire]: the weakness of the governments and the ministries of the majority of the electors and Catholic princes. They exhaust their finances with their vanity, their slackness, and their dissoluteness; they ruin their subjects, and in that they only occupy themselves with trivialities, they prevent themselves from thinking of the common good and acting thereupon. To defray their expenses, they often find themselves forced to neglect their own defense and preservation and to throw themselves into the arms of whatever power promises them help. The so-called corpus of the Protestants – which is arranged more like a party, is more cohesive, and in terms of its internal organization, more active, more alert, and more attentive to their own narrow interest – is, in this regard, no more perceptive and perhaps even blinder than the Catholics when it comes to their own true interests; here, I mean with respect to that which effects the preservation of their liberty and their estate. They have blindly created a system of their own, which is wrong in principle and very dangerous for themselves, namely, for their own corpus, which is totally isolated from the Catholics in the Imperial Diet [Reichstag] in Regensburg as well as in all imperial circle assemblies. Even the Protestant deputies who assemble in Wetzlar to visit the Imperial Chamber Court decide by means of a preliminary council, or better said, a prejudice. They decide all matters, no matter how trifling, in their separate and secret hearings, and then they bring their completely prepared judgment to the general hearing, where the Catholics, who are divided among themselves and never well prepared, are unable to render opposition. Many Catholics let themselves be intimidated, because they feel like they are without solid and secure support, and some of them misjudge their duty to their confession and their honor in such a way that they even join the party of the Protestants, and the Protestants thereby win the majority of the votes.

Despite the decisive superiority of this united corpus, its individual members are neither happier nor freer, because they have imprudently followed the principle that every matter proposed in the Protestants’ hearings, even if it is purely political and has no relationship to religious freedom, should be decided by a majority of votes, and that, in accordance with such a decision, every member of their corpus, on pain of being treated like a schismatic or apostate, is obliged to vote for the matter, simply and unconditionally, regardless of how much the decision opposes his inclination or even his material interests. In doing so, they have forged their own chains, and the individuals have made themselves slaves to the vagaries or interests of the King of Prussia and the ministry of Hannover. The King of Prussia is always sure to have the majority in the Protestants’ hearings through the great number of votes he controls and through those of his creatures [i.e. clients]. As a result, he feels that he is wholly the master of all councils, provided that these Protestants – in order to avoid being forced to obey their rightful superior, the emperor, who is bound by the electoral agreement – instead give themselves two masters who are much more imperious and despotic than the most powerful and absolute emperor could be.

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