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  • Rechtsgeschichte als Rechtspolitik: Justus Möser als Jurist und Staatsmann
  • Markus Dirk Dubber
Karl H. L. Welker. Rechtsgeschichte als Rechtspolitik: Justus Möser als Jurist und Staatsmann. 2 vols. (Osnabrück: Osnabrücker Verlag, 1996). Pp. 1217.

Justus Möser was among the more colorful Germans of the eighteenth century. He was a man of praxis, of the world, so refreshingly unlike that pedant from Königsberg, inventor of the thing-in-itself and discoverer of healthy morality’s rationalistic straitjacket, the categorical imperative. And he could write so much better too! There was just one problem. With all his lively antiformalism and his refreshing impatience for pretense, Möser also looked at first glance like a thoroughly unenlightened throwback to a dark time when status, not contract, defined the social world. Möser’s Aktientheorie determined membership in the state corporation on the basis of one’s ownership of state shares. The shareless were also rightless, no matter what the American or French revolutionaries, or their philosophes might pronounce about inalienable and equal human rights (the irony of American slavery did not escape Möser’s attention).

Karl Welker’s Justus Möser has the weight and the ambition to put all debates among Möser supporters and critics to rest, one way or another. Welker was not content, however, simply to join the ranks of Möser apologists and take up the fight against unfair and anachronistic attacks on Möser’s unfairness and anachronism. In his Möser, there would be no simplistic labels like conservatism or liberalism, estatism or statism, historicism, corporatism, or irrationalism; in fact Welker displays a Möserian dislike for “-isms” of any kind. Instead of categorizing the idiosyncratic Möser, Welker would merely describe the man in theory and praxis. Welker set out to present the facts, and nothing but the facts. The resulting magisterial treatise of two volumes totaling 1217 pages (including appendix, bibliography, and indices) is thus heavy on description and light on interpretation. Welker has amassed an astonishing collection of information on Möser’s work as a writer and statesman that will never be equaled in scope or detail. For instance, one two-page footnote early in the book is sure to satisfy the curiosity of even the most serious Möser scholar on the issue of Möser’s apparently substantial physical stature (25–26). [End Page 370]

Welker makes two important contributions to Möser scholarship. In the first volume of his Möser, Welker presents a painstaking reading of Möser’s oft-neglected early works. This close reading not only is useful in and of itself, but also allows Welker to place Möser’s later writings, on which his critics tend to take target practice, into the context of Möser’s overall intellectual development. Moreover, in the book’s second volume, Welker provides Möser scholars with a detailed account of Möser’s long and multifaceted professional career, thus permitting an in-depth exploration of the relationship between Möser’s praxis and theory, a relationship that has often been suggested but never substantiated with the degree of particularity achieved by Welker.

Welker deserves high praise for his inexhaustible attention to factual detail and close readings of Möser’s early writings. Nonetheless, among all that information, the reader may occasionally catch herself wondering whether she is reading a Möser encyclopedia instead of a work of historical scholarship. There is in fact a certain irony in applying Welker’s hands-off style of historical reportage to Möser. Although Möser chided Enlightenment philosophes for preferring the rarefied air of reason to the mundane world of facts and the mechanics of the understanding, he also chided Tacitus for his just-the-facts-ma’am historiographical attitude. According to Welker, Möser’s Osnabrückische Geschichte was to present a “differentiated overview” that avoided getting “bogged down” in particulars: “Instead of pedantic counting and learned analyzing, Möser demanded an all-encompassing impression, which he called the ‘Totaleindruck’ after 1850” (556). Welker might have done well to consider Möser’s admonition.

An example may illustrate both the significant...

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