Land and Lordship: Structures of Governance in Medieval Austria

Land and Lordship: Structures of Governance in Medieval Austria

Land and Lordship: Structures of Governance in Medieval Austria

Land and Lordship: Structures of Governance in Medieval Austria

Synopsis

Otto Brunner contends that prevailing notions of medieval social and constitutional history had been shaped by the nineteenth-century nation state and its "liberal" order. Whereas a sharp distinction between the public and the private might be appropriate to descriptions of contemporary society, such a dichotomy could not be projected back onto the Middle Ages. Focusing particularly on forms of lordship in late medieval Austria, Brunner found neither a "state" in the modern sense nor any distinction between the public and private spheres. Behind the apparent disorder of late medieval political life, however, Brunner discovered a coherent legal and constitutional order rooted in the the rights and obligations of noble lordship. In carefully reconstructing this order, Brunner's study weaves together social, legal, constitutional, and intellectual history.

Excerpt

Few works of medieval history in our century have had the immediate impact and long-term influence of Otto Brunner’s Land und Herrschaft. First published in 1939 on the eve of the Second World War, crowned with the Verdun Prize by the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1941, it went into a second printing in 1942 and a third revised edition in 1943. Interest in and demand for the work continued even after the war among successive academic generations in Germany and Austria. Hence a fourth edition was published in 1959, revised to take notice of new scholarship and to remove or replace terms and passages reflecting the cultural and political atmosphere in which the previous editions had appeared. This was to be the final version. It was reissued in a fifth edition of 1965, a sixth edition in 1973, and it is still in print. Discussion of the work continues, and if the tone has become increasingly critical, Brunner’s theses nevertheless continue to define the critical issues and will do so for some time.

Outside Germany, however, the book’s cult has been limited to a relatively small number of scholars interested in its German and indeed Austrian subject matter, ready to read its often difficult German, and willing to consider an adventure in rethinking called for in 1939 under auspices that today seem more or less odious. But this may change: an Italian translation came out in 1983, and now there is the present English translation which, we modestly note, is unique in providing both an index and a bibliography. If we also offer this introductory discussion of the book’s background, theses, and critical reception, it is because, like the sponsors of the Italian translation, we suppose that those unfamiliar with the past half-century of debate about German constitutional history may require such an access—especially, we may add, if they are to consider using Brunner’s ideas in non-German contexts. It is not a matter of repeating what is stated clearly enough in the book itself, but rather of drawing attention to the problematics of the subject—both those responsible for Brunner’s enterprise in the first place, and those generated by the book and its impact. This at any rate is why we have thought it necessary to include some explicit discussion of the Nazi matrix of the first three editions. the National . . .

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