GHDI logo


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

Taken from a famous and influential work, these brief excerpts highlight the political divisions within the Holy Roman Empire. In assessing the constitution, or makeup, of the empire, author Samuel Pufendorf (1632-1694) displays an anti-Catholic and anti-Imperial bias but also reserves criticism for the nobility and the towns as well. He invokes “the fatherland” and urges the Empire to become more active in the area of military self-defense. He is ambiguous on the depth of the legitimacy of individual state sovereignty within the Empire.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 5


Thus, there is nothing left for us to do but to call the German Empire [Reich], if classified according to the rules of political science, an irregular body resembling a monster. Through the negligent indulgence of the emperors, the ambitions of the princes, and the machinations of the clergy, it has developed over the course of time from a regular monarchy into such a disharmonious form of government that it is no longer merely a limited monarchy, though outward appearances would seem to indicate that; nor is it yet a federation of several states, but rather a cross between the two. This condition is the constant source of the fatal disease and the internal upheavals of the Empire, since the emperor, on the one hand, strives for the restoration of monarchical rule, and the estates, on the other, strive for complete liberty. But then it is the nature of all degeneration that a state, once it has deviated far from its original condition, quickly approaches, in rapid decline, the other extreme; whereas restoring it to its original form can only occur with great effort. One can easily push a rolling rock down a mountain, but rolling it up to the summit requires incredible pains; likewise, Germany will not be restored to the monarchical form of government without the greatest shock waves and without the total confusion of existing circumstances; it is evolving, on the other hand, toward a federation of states on its own. If one disregards the mutual ties between the emperor and the estates, it is already today a federation of allies with unequal rights, in that the estates have to give due acknowledgment and honor to the sovereignty of the emperor. The league between Rome and the Latins, before the latter were forced into a state of subservience by Rome, was one example of a union of free states; likewise, Agamemnon’s generalship in the Greek army during the Trojan War was based on a military alliance. What usually happens, however, is that the leader of a league increases his power so much that he eventually treats the weaker allies as subjects.

first page < previous   |   next > last page