Academic journal article Population

Johann Peter Süssmilch: From Divine Law to Human Intervention

Academic journal article Population

Johann Peter Süssmilch: From Divine Law to Human Intervention

Article excerpt

Johann Peter Süssmilch has long been recognized as the most important German contributor to the development of demography and statistics. Jacqueline Hecht, editor of the French translation and eminent scholar of the early history of demographic thought called his Divine Order of 1741 "le premier traité de démographie de l'histoire." (The first demographic treatise in history) (Hecht, 1980, p. 667). Twenty years later, the Brandenburg pastor published a second edition that was so different from the earlier book that it may well be called a separate work. While maintaining his original demographic theses, Süssmilch enlarged the scope of demographic enquiry to the field of social and economic policies. Many commentators have alluded to the differences between these two editions (Arisawa, 1979, p. 23; Hecht, 1980, p. 670; Rohrbasser, 1996, p. 984; Dreitzel, 1986a, p. 43). Still, the evolution of Süssmilch's work has not yet been adequately highlighted and even less explained in the context of the population debates of his time. In this article, I contend that Süssmilch radically changed his project and his outlook on the purpose of assembling demographic material in the twenty years between the two separate editions. The latter one deliberately forms part of the German political and economic discourse of the second third of the eighteenth century, while his previous intervention showed no signs of knowledge of this discourse and little interest in contributing to it. This reading of Süssmilch is informed by the assumption that the erudite discourse on population development and the debates about population politics were largely separated in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, thus differing from the situation in Western Europe.

To outline Süssmilch's development of thought, I will first clarify the author's objective, the sources he drew upon, and finally how he engaged with previous and contemporary authors in the first edition of the Divine Order. In the second section, I will analyse the reception of the work by German cameralists and show how, while neglecting his central religiously based contention, they were influenced by Süssmilch's method and terminology. Yet, this influence was mutual. As I will demonstrate in section three, the theologian himself became a part of the cameralist discourse in the 1750s and started employing his material for political arguments in a way he had not done in his earlier life. His involvement in the political debates of his time ultimately reached its apex in the huge second edition of the Divine Order, which is the subject of the fourth and final section.

I. The Divine Order of 1741: in search of divine law

In the 1741 preface of his great book, Süssmilch provided a clear picture of his motivation, his sources, and the ultimate goal of the publication. As a then unknown clergyman who had not published a scientific work, Süssmilch had to justify his undertaking.(1) As his primary inspiration he cited William Derham's Physico- Theology that he had encountered during his university studies at Halle and that shaped his worldview. Following Derham's lead, the German pastor wanted to show the perfect order of the world as God had implanted it. When Süssmilch referred to the function and benefit of his work, it was always in reference to the knowledge of God. There is only one exception: his dedication to Frederick II did mention the utility of his reflections for the ruler. In practice, however, he did not offer policy prescriptions, but praise for the current state of affairs in Brandenburg-Prussia (Süssmilch, 1741, Dedication, pp. 5-7).(2) These few sentences were intended to flatter the new king and do not reflect the main body of the text. Here, the aim was not to provide information or specifications for political or economic purposes.

This becomes especially clear in his treatment of the Dutch mathematician Nicolas Struyck (1687-1769). Süssmilch reveals having questioned the publication of his own finished work when hearing of Struyck's recently published Introduction to General Geography. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.