Ferdinand Lassalle, Romantic Revolutionary

Ferdinand Lassalle, Romantic Revolutionary

Ferdinand Lassalle, Romantic Revolutionary

Ferdinand Lassalle, Romantic Revolutionary

Excerpt

The fifteen or twenty years after the Congress of Vienna were for Germany a period of recovery from the exhaustion of the Napoleonic wars. The next four decades were a period of germination--to be followed, later in the century, by that output of national energy which has caused such disturbance to the rest of the world ever since. Ferdinand Lassalle belonged to the Germany of the middle period. It was a Germany of thirty odd separate principalities with, in each, a social structure of more or less separate and ordered castes. It was an age when a Minister of the Interior could still declare that "it was not becoming for subjects to judge the actions of the Head of the State by the measure of their own restricted understanding"; when a king, pressed for the grant of a constitution, could refuse to consent "that a written paper should intrude like a second Providence between our Lord God in Heaven and this country, to govern us through its paragraphs". It was a land of country gentlemen and unpolitical peasants; of petty capitals and little market towns; of small traders and master craftsmen, dependent for their livelihood on the good will of the local court, the local bureaucracy and the officers of the local garrison.

And yet there were seeds of change. Industry was in its infancy, but was already developing. When Lassalle was nine years old the North German Customs Union opened up a territory of thirty million people to free internal trade. One year later the firm of Krupp set up its first steam engine. In the Rhineland and the Ruhr, in Saxony, Silesia and the Berlin area, the rising class of merchants, bankers and manufacturers were no longer willing to acquiesce in the forms and controls of a bygone age.

The economic impetus towards political progress was rein-

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