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Konrad Engelbert Oelsner, "What May Be Hoped for from Freedom" (1794)

Konrad Engelbert Oelsner, a well-educated merchant’s son from Prussian Silesia, gravitated to Paris in 1790 and became an important reporter for the liberal German press on the French Revolution, for whose cause he suffered persecution before 1806 in Prussia. Here, he expresses his expectation that a regime of political liberty will bring an end to harsh social discipline, self-abnegation in physical labor, and emotional repression. The text exemplifies the utopian force of late Enlightenment and French revolutionary radicalism, from which Karl Marx later drew inspiration.

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What May Be Hoped for from Freedom

I love liberty because I love contentedness. No longer will anyone step onto the neck of someone else because of his birth; all will walk upright, no one will be compelled to crawl anymore. One will be able to converse about everything that concerns our interests without holding back, to speak, write, and act more boldly; our mind will enrich itself in manifold ways, our way of thinking will become enlarged and ennobled. Agriculture, industry, and the arts will be released from their fetters; all labor will belong to its natural owner. Prosperity will spread over the entire mass of my fellow citizens. I will see few hungry and naked, and rarely so. The people will dress better and eat better. No mismarriages will be possible any longer. The rich will choose the well-bred daughter of the poor without blushing. The strapping young farmer will make the respectable young women happier than would a debauched Marquis. The children from such a marriage will be active farmers, managers, stewards, or also judicious representatives. Without shame, the poor Ludwigsritter will trade in the sword that has brought him so little fortune for the ell. The wealth of the former duke will flow in equal streams over his heirs. They will set up factories, improve the culture, and seek to earn the respect of their fellow citizens through contributions to the public good. No prejudice will stand any longer against this or that honorable work; every step that is not dishonorable will be permitted. Marriages and births will be independent of the willfulness of the parents and the censors of the priests. No cruel law will fuse free hearts together for a lifetime under the yoke of honor. With a more even distribution of the gifts of fortune, there will be fewer insolent desires, and fewer debased slaves.

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