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Adolph Freiherr von Knigge, "The New State" (1792)

In the following article, Adolf von Knigge (1752-96), a prolific Enlightenment publicist, ridicules those who had opposed the American revolt, fearing it would unleash populist anarchy. Instead, as Knigge argues, it produced an orderly and prosperous liberal utopia.

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Part One

Who can correctly judge great world events?

Great world events can be judged most correctly only by posterity; only it is able to assess, with cool blood, the testimonies of contemporaries, all of which, without exception, are more or less partisan, and to explain the causes, effects, and consequences, one by means of the other.

Only he who is not related, in even the remotest way, to the actors can consider himself an impartial judge, and with events that influence the entire body politic, that can never be the case as long as we ourselves are still members of a body politic.

Let no one object that time erases the small incidents that often act more as driving forces than the great, public events! Who does not know the false anecdotes carried by the news of the day? It is precisely these that are only gradually corrected, explained, and the truly characteristic remains. But it goes without saying that I am speaking here of an age in which culture and philosophy are not dormant. Who will deny that we are now judging more accurately the age of Louis XIV than those who, during his reign, elevated him to the heavens out of human fear, flattery, or false enthusiasm, or perhaps denied him any kind of greatness and virtue out of revenge and envy? Who would consider reliable a general history of the Reformation that was written in the sixteenth or seventeenth century?

The painting must first be examined from a vantage point where one can see it in its entirety, without being distracted by the shimmering of individual colors, by the interest in various groups, by the small details. But our individual situations, likes or dislikes of our own and foreign constitutions, our own and foreign systems, our own or foreign nations and persons, who are either supporters or detractors, critics or praisers of those objects, shape us as long as we live in the midst of the throng. Small, imperceptible connections make us biased in favor of living persons and contemporary things. One of these considerations works secretly even on the experienced thinker, who deems himself quite cold and impartial, be it only a patriotic or educational bias, a preconceived opinion about those who advocate the cause, or the like.

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