GHDI logo

Württemberg Democrat Ludwig Pfau on German Federalism (1864/1895)

Ludwig Pfau (1821-1894) was a poet, journalist, politician, and founder of the satirical magazine Eulenspiegel, which he edited from 1848 to 1850. His participation in revolutionary events in Württemberg in 1849 resulted in a twenty-one-year prison sentence for “high treason.” After fleeing to Switzerland to escape the sentence, he went on to France, where he eked out an existence before being pardoned in 1862. Pfau was very popular in his native Württemberg on account of his lifelong struggle against “Caesarism,” militarism, and Prussian arrogance. The essay excerpted below, “Centralization or Federation?,” was first published in April 1864. It was republished with significant revisions in 1895. In this essay, Pfau elaborates on the difference between confederation and centralization in Germany. One German state, he argues, should not exert hegemony over the others because it has more bayonets or practices the “rule of the fist.” As a radical democrat, Pfau equates centralization with the worst features of Prussianism, including “blind obedience,” and he attacks his fellow democrats for their willingness to accept “first unity, then freedom.” Pfau suggests that Germany’s history of political disunity has fostered, not hindered, the cause of liberty.

print version     return to document list previous document      next document

page 1 of 7

Centralization or Federation?

April 1864.

[ . . . ]

The German fragmentation is not limited to the country but extends to the people, and the disunity of minds is the moral obstacle standing in the way of the unity of territories. Absolutist, constitutional, and Socialist currents are splintered by Catholic, Protestant, and philosophical viewpoints in such manifold ways that each party grouping carries within its bosom the most opposing elements. This spiritual fragmentation must be overcome if the material one is to end; the internal unity of the people, however, will not be achieved by concealment and postponement but rather only by disclosure and the conciliation of differences; this alone will be able to exert a beneficial effect on the political development of the nation.

In Germany as everywhere else, the major political question, traced back to its root principle, is this: the divine right of monarchs or sovereignty of the people; authority or self-rule; dogma or reason; force or rule of law; subjugation or freedom. No matter how one may twist and turn it, the same opposition recurs all the time, and, when applied to the structure of the national state, it comes down to centralization or federation. In its essence, the question of German unification does not boil down to monarchy or republic, Austria or Prussia, grossdeutsch or kleindeutsch [greater German or lesser German], but to centralization or federation. Anyone who supports the divine right of kings, of authority, of dogma, of force, and of subjugation must logically vote for centralization; on the other hand, anyone who campaigns for sovereignty of the people, for self-rule, for reason, for rule of law, and for freedom must logically strive for federation. For in both cases, one thing is impossible without the others. What human rights are vis-à-vis the community, what freedom of communities is vis-à-vis the individual state, is represented by administrative self-rule of the tribal group vis-à-vis the central authority of the national state. Without the formation of a proportional number of political centers and focal points of intellectual activity that serve as bases for the creative spirit of the nation and which, by balancing each other, protect the central authority from arbitrary rule, the rational organization of a large state and the free and healthy function of its energies are not possible. The internal activity of the concrete community with its various groups, not some abstract rule of the center acting from the outside, must be the basis of administration. Just as the state is not the end but the means, existing only to guarantee to the individual the exercise of human rights, state unity is also not the rational purpose but only the political means to ensure the independence of the nation with its tribes and communities internally as well as externally. For the ultimate objective of all social institutions is the development of humankind, i.e., the realization of humanity through the rule of the public good – this constitutes, in a word, freedom as the path toward justice.

[ . . . ]

first page < previous   |   next > last page