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The Conservatives: Friedrich Julius Stahl: "What is the Revolution?" (1852)

In his 1852 speech "What is the Revolution?," the conservative politician and Berlin law professor Friedrich Julius Stahl (1802-1861) describes the basic principles of conservative thought, which opposed the ideas behind the French Revolution; ascribed central importance to Christian religion; defended the monarchical principle; and dismissed nationalism. Stahl also warns of the godless, anarchic conditions of revolution, of which communism was a final consequence.

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I. What is the Revolution?
A lecture delivered at the meeting of the Evangelical Association for Ecclesiastical Aims on March 8, 1852.

Esteemed assembly!

The Evangelical Association has given us — who are not theologians — the difficult task of using a one-hour lecture to introduce the Christian core of each one of several sciences. I believe that I might best achieve this task by taking up the following question as the subject of this lecture:

"What is the revolution?"

For where there is revolution, there is also a Christian witness against revolution. Since March 1848 this witness has been borne from the pulpits of devout preachers, in the church press, at the Church Congress in Wittenberg in 1848, in the parliaments of Berlin and Erfurt. It is the Christian program: "to break with the revolution!" Our government has also solemnly acknowledged this program. It is therefore certainly of current interest, and is most appropriate for connecting politics to the core of the Christian position, that one clearly state:

"What is the revolution, and what does it mean to break with the revolution?"

Does revolution mean self-help and violence by the people against their governing authorities? Is it the same as rebellion? — By no means! Revolution is not a single act; it is a continuous condition, a new order of things. Rebellion, the expulsion of dynasties, the overthrowing of a constitution are things that have existed in all eras. Revolution, however, is the characteristic world-political signature of our age.

Or does revolution mean political freedom and institutions for political freedom? — Must one, in order not to pay homage to revolution, be an adherent of absolute monarchy, or of unregulated police power, or of the immutability of old legal forms? Is it revolution to want a closer union of the German states or protection for Schleswig's inhabitants against absorption by the Danes? Is it revolution to resist the will of the king or his ministers? — Far from it! Political freedom, the unity and power of the German nation are aims pursuant to God's will. Loyal resistance against governing authority has God's commandment on its side. Thomas More, who denied the king of England recognition of the clerical supremacy he appropriated for himself, was no revolutionary. Even John the Baptist was no revolutionary.

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