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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.4 (2002) 654-656
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Another Face of Enlightenment
John Christian Laursen,
University of California, Riverside
Frank Grunert. Normbegründung und politische Legitimität: Zur Rechts-und Staatsphilosophie der deutschen Frühaufklärung (Tübingen. Niemeyer, 2000). Pp. ix + 310. e 84.00 cloth.
T.J. Hochstrasser. Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). Pp. xiii + 246. $55.00 cloth.
Both of these volumes contribute substantially to teasing out and reevaluating the Latin and German political theory of the early Enlightenment. It is [End Page 654] becoming harder to justify the traditional predominance of English and French as the chief languages of the early Enlightenment. In bringing out the roots of "another face" of Enlightenment these books provide valuable reference points for evaluating eighteenth-century political thought in all major European languages.
Frank Grunert begins from the baseline of Christian political philosophy provided by Veit Ludwig von Seckendorf and Valentin Alberti. Seckendorf's German Princely State (1656) and Christian State (1685), and Alberti's Compendium of Natural Law Conformed with Orthodox Theology (1678), are characterized as pre-Enlightenment. Both authors took it for granted that human society could not function without Christianity. For Seckendorf, the derivation of authority from God means that contractual political philosophy is unthinkable. This does not mean that princely rule is unlimited: rather, religion is the best limit on princes. But an evil prince is a scourge from God and the people have no right to rebel. Grunert concludes that this is politically naive, if religiously consistent. Along the way, Seckendorf Christianizes Grotius. Alberti struggles to come up with a Lutheran natural law which refutes the Catholics, the Calvinists, the Pietists, the Machiavellians, the Monarchomachs, and profane natural law. Observe that old-fashioned religious political theory required ingenuity. Alberti's natural law defended slavery and justified prevailing conditions. A ray of liberal light emerges, however, in his renewal of the orthodox position that the authorities should not try to penetrate into people's minds, but be satisfied with controlling their behavior.
Grunert goes back to Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf for an exploration of the theoretical roots of the de-theologization of natural law and the secularization of the state. Grotius's "Law of War and Peace" (1625) began the process, not in order to deliberately promote atheism, but to curb religious dispute by giving God a new function. God is the ground of legal validity, but reason is the epistemological standard for law. Revealed law cannot violate natural law. But neither is revealed law otiose: natural religion depends on revealed religion. Grunert discusses Grotius on contract theory, sovereignty, and resistance: he is best understood as a theorist of "juristic contractualism." Pufendorf was more concerned than Grotius to expel theology from natural law. This did not mean that there was no normative function for God, but the way he positioned it made it easy for others to jettison it. Pufendorf also made no place for public debate, which was promoted by Christian Thomasius. There are some interesting discussions here and there of Grunert's disagreements with authorities such as Haakonssen.
Almost half of Grunert's book is a detailed analysis of Thomasius's achievement as the instigator of the Enlightenment in Germany. Many of his positions are quasi- or proto-liberal, contra the widespread notion of Thomasius as supporter of absolutism. He did not hesitate to criticize the weaknesses of monarchy and argue for limits. "Subjects" are both subjects of the prince and reasoners in their own right. Reason is necessarily social and sociable, anticipating the communication ethics of Kant and Habermas. Rulers should listen to the wise. The absolute state must become above all a Rechtstaat, subject to the rule of law. Clearly, Thomasius deserves a place alongside Pierre Bayle and John Locke as a "Founding Father" of the Enlightenment. But, as recent interpretations of those figures have also insisted, Thomasius's natural law was still grounded in religion, lending support to the idea that much of the Enlightenment was a conservative or Christian Enlightenment. [End Page 655]