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9 THE PEASANT AND THE REVOLUTION THE Revolution was all things to all men. To the bourgeois liberal it meant the establishment of a new nation of parliamentary government and material prosperity. To the guild master it meant the restoration of corporate control over industrial production. To the peasant it meant above all the abolition of manorialism and the redistribution of landed property. Each fought for his own cause, and therefore their common victory destroyed their common purpose. Once the Restoration fell, the new order began to dissipate its energies in a futile strife of social classes and political factions which made possible the ultimate triumph of the reaction. By its devotion to economic freedom the middle class alienated the country no less than the city. During the spring uprising the peasantry had collaborated with the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in the struggle against absolutism, and as long as the liberals could count on the support of the village, they had nothing to fear from aristocratic agitation. But something happened between the defeat of conservatism in I 848 and its victory in I 849 to destroy the spirit of insurrection among the rural masses. The same rustic who had forced constitutionalism on the princes of Germany during the March days remained indifferent to its repudiation twelve months later. And his defection from the new order doomed the Revolution. For the monarchists the change in attitude of the rural population was entirely understandable. It was an article of their faith that while the town breeds subversion, the village is the home of a simple, becoming patriotism. During the Fifties the eminent sociologist Wilhelm Riehl analyzed the character of the peasantry to the satisfaction of every good reactionary: THE PEASANT AND THE REVOLUTION There is an unconquerable conservative force within the German people, a hard core which withstands all change, and that is our peasantry. It is truly a unique social class, and no other nation can offer a pendant to it. The man of education may be inclined toward conservatism by his understanding , but the peasant is conservative as a matter of habit. In the social conflicts of our time the peasant has played a more important part than most of us realize, for he has formed a natural barrier against the growth of French revolutionary doctrines among the lower classes of society. Only the stolid resistance of the peasants saved the German thrones in March 1848. We are told that the revolution stopped short of the thrones. Yet this is not entirely true, for it was the peasants who stopped short of the thrones. Their stolidity was by no means fortuitous, stemming as it did from the essential character of the German countryman . In our fatherland the peasant exercises a political influence which he enjoys in few other countries of Europe. The peasant is the future of the German nation, and the life of our people is constantly refreshed and rejuvenated by the peasantry.1 The Junker no doubt found it reassuring to learn that the rural masses were psychologically incapable of insurrection. But what of the spring uprising? Notwithstanding conservative interpretations of the popular ethos, the peasant had engaged in a revolution. During the March days he had turned against the aristocratic landowner and supported a bourgeois ideology, but in return he expected material benefits denied him by the Restoration. He abandoned his old loyalties to find the answer to the agrarian problem in constitutional government . Only the failure of the new order to meet his economic demands gradually destroyed his faith in parliamentarianism . The spring uprising was clear evidence of the inadequacy [ 157 ) PART TWO: REVOLUTION of the agricultural policies of the old order. In the lands of the southwest the benevolent despots of the Age of Enlightenment and the constitutional rulers of the Restoration had pioneered in the elimination of personal servitudes and the extinction of manorial dues. Yet it was precisely there that the agrarian revolt assumed the most alarming form. The emancipated villager of the Black Forest or the Odenwald or Franconia was as restive under the contractual obligations of free tenancy as his grandfather had been under the customary fees of hereditary serfdom. Beset by population pressure , crop failure, and soil exhaustion, he could not afford the high cost of liquidation or even commutation. What he wanted was the undisputed ownership of the land obtained by the abrogation of aristocratic property rights. Through the Revolution he hoped to throw off once and for all...


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