Ruler Before Philosopher

  • Friedrich Meinecke
Part of the World Profiles book series


THE LIFE WORK of Frederick the Great can be viewed in many contexts that are significant for universal history. One of the most important for the history of European thought is the context in which we shall seek to view it here. If any man of the eighteenth century had the vocation and the strength to solve the problem for his time, and to confer on raison d’état the aims and standards of universal human reason, then it was Frederick. It can be said that his whole life was dedicated to this task. With a heroism that was just as philosophical as it was political, he took it upon himself from the beginning and directed upon it all the divergent energies of his mind (which was by no means either simple or unambiguous) and all the scientific means of his time. The solution which he found and which satisfied him was certainly one which, in the main, he succeeded in discovering relatively quickly and early; but he did not allow it to deteriorate into a useful convention, but was ever reconsidering it freshly and intensively, and so even latterly was able to add something new to it. So that, as will presently be shown, it was ultimately capable of leading on to new stages of historical and political knowledge. But he himself remained confined all the time within the limitations of his own time and its mode of thought.


Eighteenth Century Power Politics Political Knowledge Territorial Claim Power Policy 
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  1. 6.
    See my analysis of the origin and aims of this work in the Histor. Zeitschr. 117. Rohmer’s work of research (Vom Werdegange Friedrichs d. Gr. 1924), where it differs from my views, contains nothing that convinces me.Google Scholar
  2. 17.
    Paul-Dubois, Frédéric le Grand d’après sa correspondance politique 1903, p. 295 f.Google Scholar
  3. 23.
    Hintze, Friedrich d. Gr. nach dem Siebenjährigen Kriege und das Polit. Testament von 1768, Forschungen zur brand. u. preuss. Geschichte 32, 43. Cf. also H. v. Caemmerer in the Hohenzollern-Jahrbuch 1911, p. 89.Google Scholar
  4. 24.
    Regarding the rationalist element in Frederick’s politics, cf. also Küntzel, Zum Gedächtnis Friedrichs d. Gr., Marine-Rundschau 1912, 206 ff., and his presentation of Frederick in the Meister der Politik published by Marcks and v. Müller.Google Scholar
  5. 29.
    Demonstrated by M. Posner, Die Montesquieunoten Friedrichs II, Histor. Zeitschr. 47, 253 ff. Cf. also Koser, 5th ed., I, 348, and Küntzel in the Festgabe für F. v. Bezold (1921), pp. 234 ff.Google Scholar
  6. 33.
    This has been correctly observed by Volz, Die auswärtige Politik Friedrichs d. Gr., Deutsche Rundschau September 1921, but he failed to notice Frederick’s natural inclination which he himself was holding in check here.Google Scholar
  7. 66.
    This has already been suggested by Fechner, Friedrichs d. Gr. Theorie der auswärtigen Politik, Programm des Breslauer Johannisgymnissiums 1876, pp. 11 ff.Google Scholar
  8. 70.
    S’il y a h gagnerà être honnête homme, nous le serons, et s’il faut duper, soyons donc fourbes May 12, 1741. Polit. Corresp. I, 245. Similar remarks at this period: Trompez les trompeurs and Dupons les plutot que d’être dupe. Cf. Koser, in the Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie 1908, p. 66.Google Scholar
  9. 84.
    Ibid., VIII, 171. This idea, which was characteristic of the Enlightenment, that lawful territorial claims could not by themselves constitute a morally justifiable motive for war (since it in no way affected the happiness of the subjects whether they belonged to one ruler or another) was in fact very widespread at the time. Cf. de Lavie, Des Corps politiques, 1766, II, 136.Google Scholar

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© Peter Paret 1972

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  • Friedrich Meinecke

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