- Genossenschaft, Sekte, Verein in Deutschland, vol. 1: Vom Spätmittelalter bis zur Französischen Revolution, and Freimaurerei um 1800: Ignaz Aurelius Feßler und die Reform der Großloge Royal York in Berlin. vol. 5 of Hallesche Beiträge zur Europäischen Aufklärung
The historical sociology of German voluntary associations boasts an illustrious scholarship, ranging from the contributions of the nineteenth century legal historian Otto von Gierke, and the founding fathers of German sociology, Max Weber and Georg Simmel, to the work of contemporary social scientists like Jürgen Habermas, Reinhart Koselleck, and Thomas Nipperdey. In large measure, these scholars have identified the proliferation of the club or association (Verein) as both agent and hallmark of the process of modernization. The publications under review reflect the profound influences of this German tradition, while offering distinct, though largely complementary, departures from the established interpretation. With the first of an ambitious two-volume work, Wolfgang Hardtwig, a professor of history at Humboldt University in Berlin, presents a broad analysis of the voluntary association in the early modern period. In contrast to Hardtwig’s compendious survey, the published dissertation of Florian Maurice offers a microhistorical account of the Freemasonic ritual reforms completed by the Enlightenment figure Feßler in the Berlin Grand Lodge Royal York at the very end of the eighteenth century. In scope and subject matter Hardtwig’s and Maurice’s works contrast sharply, yet together they represent an important break with entrenched views of the German Enlightenment.
Perhaps Hardtwig’s most significant contribution consists of seeing conventional historical periodizations. The modernization account of voluntary associations identifies the eighteenth century as little more than a precursor to modernity. In this interpretation, Enlightenment associations, characterized by reading clubs and Masonic lodges, undermined the religious and estate categories of the Old Regime, establishing the nineteenth century Verein culture so central to the organization of modern religious, political, and class identities. Hardtwig questions this narrative, however, by identifying moments of voluntary affiliation in a range of disparate political, religious, and cultural groups reaching back to the middle ages. Voluntary societies and social networks appear in the early modern period, Hardtwig argues, like “islands of modernity in a sea of traditional structures.” Instead of “continuity and a dynamic of development,” Hardtwig sees “discontinuity and particularity” (23). While committed to the analytical prism of the modern Verein, Hardtwig describes his approach as a “history of modernization without teleology” (24). [End Page 460]
Hardtwig divides the bulk of his analysis among eight chapters, which are devoted to the religious, secular, and Enlightenment contexts that encouraged forms of voluntary association. The sociability and mutual support of medieval confraternities, which remained active in Catholic Germany into the nineteenth century, had many structural similarities to the modern Verein. However, their spiritual motivation and frequent identification with guilds and other corporate structures, Hardtwig argues, prevent any close comparison (79, 94). Citing Max Weber, Hardtwig identifies the sects of the Radical Reformation—although fleeting in their influence—as the “original model of the modern Verein” (97). The growth of confessional churches after 1550, Hardtwig argues, established the authority of the German territorial state (159). But soon after the new churches consolidated their confessional structures, nonconformist groups in the form of Pietist conventicles posed novel challenges to official control (177). Humanists formed some of the earliest secular organizations in the sixteenth century, providing an important impulse for the literary academies of the seventeenth century (197). In his account of German Enlightenment associations, Hardtwig follows an established periodization that traces these largely academic groups to the reading clubs and patriotic societies of the mature Enlightenment, and finally to the secret societies of Freemasons, Rosicrucians, and Illuminaten. The politicization of late Enlightenment societies, including the Masonic lodges, represents for Hardtwig the most robust...