Censors, intellectuals, and German civil society, 1815-1848
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In late 1819, reactionary forces led by Prince Clemens von Metternich pushed through a package of legislation aimed at curbing what they saw as a dangerous revolutionary conspiracy. Among those policies was the requirement of preventive censorship for all works published in the newly formed German Confederation under 320 pages. As a result of this policy, German states and intellectuals were set against one another, as publishers, editors, and authors fought for their ability to speak and write without state tutelage, while governments sought not only to control domestic discourse, but also to avoid offending other powerful states. Despite the significance of such a task, however, governments took on the challenge of regulating an ever-growing press with remarkably limited resources, and entrusted a small group of men, drawn from the ranks of educated civil servants, to be censors. This study examines the work of these censors, who, often against their own inclinations, had to mediate between a neo-absolutist state and an increasingly mobilized political press. Charting the development of censorship from the issuance of the Carlsbad Decrees in 1819 until the abrogation of prior restraint in 1848, it argues that censors were not one-sidedly reactionary figures, but rather were often indicative of the attitudes and assumptions of the milieu of educated state servants from which they were drawn. Censorship itself was also not simply repressive, but also had generative effects, as it touched off wide-ranging debates over the meaning of scholarship, politics, and religion. Ultimately, however, the state’s claim to exercise censorship in defense of public order was undermined with the emergence of stark cleavages within German society, which set loose forces beyond the state’s control. The end of censorship thus also spelled the end of fantasies of a politics of consensus, not only for traditionalist conservatives, but also for the liberal movement that had opposed it.