“The Benefits of a National Uniform, Declaimed by a Citizen”
from Patriotic Fantasies (1775)
Justus Moser was a major official in a small German town who was best known in the eighteenth century for his short essays. Born in 1720 in Osnabrück, Möser spent almost his entire life there until he died in the same town in 1794. As an administrator in Osnabrück, he was mindful of local political obligations. His reform proposals often had a veiled quality, yet he could not help writing satirically about the foibles of rural feudalism. He advocated a peculiar conservative form of Enlightenment, one arguing for the restoration of medieval rights of burghers and yeomen. The centralized states of Absolutist princes could serve to restore the dignity of ordinary citizens, but Möser, a conservative loyal to his local traditions, saw state authority with considerable skepticism. Instruments of modern statecraft ought to mobilize the populace and not simply serve the interests of the entrenched aristocracy. He was at his most scandalous when he defended serfdom, though he also wrote many pieces mocking the aristocracy. In general, he avoided universal claims about the rights of humanity or the foundations of reason. He had little faith in the pedagogical preaching of most Enlightenment essayists, yet as the following essay shows he was quite capable of proposing radical changes.
The idea that all grown men should wear standardized dress was one of the minor debates of the eighteenth century, but it provides insight as to how and why the public display of male identity changed so dramatically. As J. C. Flügel notes in his essay, the last decades of the eighteenth century commenced “the Great Masculine Renunciation.” The principle that men dress in dark colors and with little variation in design became universal within less than three decades. Möser's proposal explains the motives for transforming masculinity. His proposal is interesting from our own historical vantage point because respectable society has in large part enforced a version of his plan, without, however, relying on the state to enforce the rule that all respectable men wear a standardized uniform. Today