Eckhart Hellmuth and Wolfgang Piereth
Translated by Angela Davies
From the 1760s, the public sphere in Germany became increasingly politicised. Certain strata of Germansociety became receptive to the ideaof civil activities undertaken for the common good, displayed a new sensitivity to contemporary political and social conditions and their shortcomings, and were more prepared to voice criticism. Events such as the Seven Years War and the American War of Independence stimulated this development. The dramatic occurences of the revolutionary and Napoleonic age gave it a further boost. 1 In particular, the war with Napoleonic France had a profound impact on society, bringing with it occupation and haggling about territory, constant changes of ruler and a far-reaching reform policy which awakened and sharpened the political awareness of broad sections of the population. 2 For example, the Confederation of the Rhine was the 'subject of debate in all the journals, during which, society was quickly politicised'. 3 These upheavals cleared the deckfor a debate on political basics such as national identity, legal equality and political participation.
This newly created public was to a large extent the domain of the enlightened intelligentsia, the Gebildeten, at least in the later eighteenth century. This group was highly diverse in terms of origin, profession, type and level of income. 4 What unified the Gebildeten as a group was education. As a rule, they had studied at one of the enlightened universities. Familiarity with the contemporary and classical culture ensured the homogeneity of this group. Since education, not property or social background, defined the Gebildeten, in principle it was an open group. At the same time, it was highly elitist, as it comprised only about 2 per cent of the total population. Although the Gebildeten group was middleclass at heart, it also crossed over into the nobility. It consisted essentially of three sub-groups. First, there were members of the professions who had had an academic training, such as doctors, lawyers and apothecaries. Second, there were writers, artists and journalists. And third, by far the largest constituent group of the Gebildeten were members of the civil service. In the widest sense this included, in addition to administrative