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3 THE AGRARIAN PROBLEM WHEN the storm broke in the spring of r 848 the agrarian problem was still of paramount importance for the economic life of Central Europe. At the time of the Congress of Vienna So per cent of the inhabitants of the German Confederation lived on the land, while thirty years later two out of three Germans could still be found in the village. Despite the steady progress of the factory system, almost every state retained its rural character until after the middle of the century. The only exceptions were Hamburg, Bremen, LUbeck, and Frankfurt , the four municipal republics whose territories hardly extended beyond their city walls, and Saxony, where a flourishing industry and commerce employed more than half of the entire labor force. The rest was the country of the peasant tilling the fields, grumbling about servile dues, and awaiting the day when the land would be his.1 The agrarian problem involved first of all the personal status of a servile agricultural working class tied to the soil by law and tradition. The question of the legal position of the peasantry assumed importance in the eighteenth century, as serfdom ceased to be financially profitable or morally acceptable . To begin with, the physiocratic theories and social teachings of the era of benevolent despotism began to condemn human bondage as economically and ethically unjustifiable. Then the experiences of the French Revolution and of the Industrial Revolution lent strength to the movement for the abolition of servitude. By r 848 the liberation of the serf and his transformation into an independent peasant struggling for a livelihood in a free economy had become an essential aspect of the growth of German agriculture. Secondly, a change in the personal relationships binding the peasant to the land and subjecting him to the aristocrat neces- [ 38 ] THE AGRARIAN PROBLEM sitated a change in the economic relationships prevalent under manorialism. The entire complex of servile dues, labor obligations , financial fees, and feudal prerogatives was so inextricably bound up in the institution of serfdom that the end of one led ineluctably to a redefinition of the other. What is more, the liberation of the peasant raised the question of ultimate ownership of the soil in which both serf and noble had property rights. The attempt to translate corporate concepts of possession derived from the Middle Ages into contractual rights characteristic of an age of capitalism meant that the system of dual proprietorship of the land had to be abolished and the conflicting claims of the joint· owners settled. This process of adjustment was the most delicate of the issues created by the liberation of the peasant, for on its outcome depended the direction in which rural life in Central Europe would develop after its emergence from feudalism. Finally, the agrarian problem arose out of the need for a more rational approach to the cultivation of the soil. In the course of the eighteenth century farming had begun to play a new role in the economy of the Continent, as the demands of the local market ceased to determine the output of agriculture . The desire for financial profit inspired a mode of tillage which actively imitated the example of industrial capitalism. The emphasis on an increased yield and a more intensive exploitation of the soil encouraged the adoption of farming methods designed to raise the productive capacity of the countryside. Even before I 8I 5 the open-field system was disappearing, the peasant's scattered parcels of land were becoming compact farms, village common lands were being partitioned and cultivated, and progressive landowners were turning with growing enthusiasm to crop specialization. Then came important scientific discoveries in organic chemistry and veterinary medicine which strengthened the trend toward a modernization of agriculture, encouraging the transition of the rural economy from a subsistence to a profit basis. [ 39 ] PART ONE: RESTORATION Three distinct forms of agricultural organization developed in Germany after the Middle Ages, each with its unique system of land distribution and cultivation. The south and west became the country of undersized farms held by the peasantry under a system of hereditary or lifetime tenure. Although here and there the aristocrat practiced agriculture on a large scale, he was as a rule not a gentleman-farmer but a landlord deriving his wealth from dues levied upon the countryman. In the Rhineland, in Thuringia, and in the states south of the Main the rustic performed labor services on the noble estate and paid a wide variety of...


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